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Forensic Science Does Not Start in the Lab: The Concept of Diagnostic Field Tests

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An attempt to improve an analytical system can focus either on the actual processing or on the input. In forensic science, much emphasis has been placed on improving laboratory procedures, as though the input is already the best that can be obtained. Means of improving the basic input have gained much less attention. Yet, it must be agreed that even the best laboratory cannot gain from an item more than has been contained in it when it arrived from the field. The detection of latent materials at the crime scene by physical or chemical techniques and the diagnostic examination of material already discovered belong to the concept of diagnostic field tests. This group also includes “mapping” for the presence of certain materials, such as latent fingerprints through the distribution of amino acids on the surface. These tests are conducted outside the laboratory, without sophisticated instrumentation, at the crime scene, the suspect's home, or elsewhere. A significant advantage of the use of diagnostic field tests is the ability to deal with “dissipating evidence” such as gunshot residue or explosive traces on the hands of suspects. If time is lost, there is a risk of losing such evidence, which is liable to deteriorate rapidly. In my presentation, I will discuss older and some newly developed forensic field tests, with specific emphasis on the Israeli experience.
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Keywords: BTK; ETK; Joseph Almog; Lucas medal; PET; ferrotrace; field tests; forensic science

Document Type: Commentary

Affiliations: Casali Institute of Applied Chemistry, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Jerusalem 91904, Israel

Publication date: 2006-11-01

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