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Enhancing the Quality of Aged Latent Fingerprints Developed by Superglue Fuming: Loss and Replenishment of Initiator

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The recovery and identification of latent fingerprints from a crime scene are crucial to many investigations. The cyanoacrylate (superglue) fuming method (CFM), which develops fingerprints by growing a polymer coating over the print residue, is a powerful method but encounters severe limitations when prints are aged or exposed to harsh environmental conditions. We examine the aging process and how the changes that occur to a fingerprint residue over time influence the growth of polymer during development. We identify loss of initiator by erosion and degradation that, when coupled with a loss of water from the print residue, result in a decreased ability to polymerize ethylcyanoacrylate. Then, we present a methodology by which the ability of aged latent fingerprints to polymerize ethylcyanoacrylate is recovered. Two print enhancement agents, acetic acid and ammonia, are demonstrated to improve the growth of polymer from the print ridges by over an order of magnitude, while retaining the integrity of the print structure. Comparison between the two enhancement agents indicate that the enhancement occurs due to ridge coating by the ammonia or acetic acid and pH control of the latent print.
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Keywords: aging; cyanoacrylate; enhancement; fingerprints; forensic science; polymerization; quartz crystal microbalance; recovery

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Chemistry Department, The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN 37996. 2: Chemical Sciences Division, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, TN 37831.

Publication date: September 1, 2008

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