High Resolution Imaging of Latent Fingerprints by Localized Corrosion on Brass Surfaces

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The Atomic Force Microscope (AFM) is capable of imaging fingerprint ridges on polished brass substrates at an unprecedented level of detail. While exposure to elevated humidity at ambient or slightly raised temperatures does not change the image appreciably, subsequent brief heating in a flame results in complete loss of the sweat deposit and the appearance of pits and trenches. Localized elemental analysis (using EDAX, coupled with SEM imaging) shows the presence of the constituents of salt in the initial deposits. Together with water and atmospheric oxygen—and with thermal enhancement—these are capable of driving a surface corrosion process. This process is sufficiently localized that it has the potential to generate a durable negative topographical image of the fingerprint. AFM examination of surface regions between ridges revealed small deposits (probably microscopic “spatter” of sweat components or transferred particulates) that may ultimately limit the level of ridge detail analysis.

Keywords: atomic force microscope; forensic science; imaging; latent fingerprint; localized corrosion; metal surface

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1556-4029.2009.01217.x

Affiliations: 1: Department of Chemistry, University of Leicester, Leicester LE1 7RH, U.K. 2: Scientific Support Department, Northamptonshire Police, Wootton Hall, Northampton NN4 0JQ, U.K. Also at: Forensic Research Centre, University of Leicester, Leicester LE1 7RH, U.K.

Publication date: January 1, 2010

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