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Fingerprints give away more than identity

Method detects tiny specks of cocaine, other illegal drugs stuck in whorls

1:45pm, May 8, 2015
drugs in fingerprints

TOUCH OF DRUGS  This fingerprint is laced with tiny traces of cocaine, as detected by a new method.

The one-of-a-kind pattern of ridges and valleys in a fingerprint may not only betray who was present at a crime scene. It may also tattle about what outlawed drugs a suspect handled.

With advanced spectroscopy, researchers can detect and measure tiny flecks of cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin — in some cases as little as trillionths of a gram — on a lone fingerprint. The study, led by researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, Md., appears May 7 in Analytical Chemistry.

Using an ink-jet–printed array of known quantities of drugs, researchers calibrated their spectroscopy techniques to measure specks of the chemicals. Then, using a 3-D printed plastic finger and a synthetic version of finger oil, researchers created drug-tainted fingerprints pressed onto paper or silicon.

On paper, the researchers detected as little as 1

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