September 13, 2008
Fingerprints Go High-Tech
By Castelvecchi, Davide
New tests can reveal signs of explosives, drugs Fingerprints can tell a lot more about people - what they've touched, what they've eaten, what drugs they've taken - than just their identities. A new analytic tool could make it easier to spot terrorists and diagnose diseases from telltale chemical markers.
Cooks' team singled out traces of chemicals such as the explosive RDX and cocaine.
The researchers used a technique called DESI, pioneered by Cooks and collaborators in 2004. In DESI, researchers spray microscopic droplets of water onto a sample. The first droplets that hit the sample form a film that dissolves chemicals on the surface. When additional droplets splash onto the liquid film, some droplets bounce back and are sucked into a tube.
There the droplets are dried to isolate any chemicals in the sample. Mass spectrometry then identifies molecules according to their molecular weights.
Traditional mass spectrometry requires samples to be analyzed in a vacuum, while DESI can be used in the field.
"DESI is extremely powerful and promising," says chemist Facundo Fernandez of Georgia Tech in Atlanta.
DESI might also be useful for medical diagnosis. Fingerprints may contain chemicals that are not found with blood or urine tests and that indicate a disease's presence.
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