Sifting through the chemical clues left behind by arson is delicate, time-consuming work, but University of Alberta researchers teaming with RCMP scientists in Canada, have found a way to speed the process.
A computer program developed by University of Alberta chemistry professor James Harynuk, his team of graduate and undergraduate researchers and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police National Forensic Laboratory Services, can cut the need for extra levels of human analysis, reducing the waiting time to find out the cause of a deliberately set fire.
That means quicker turnaround on answers for fire investigators, said Mark Sandercock, manager of trace evidence program support for the RCMP's National Forensic Laboratory Services, and a co-author on the research.
"Having results back in a timely way on physical evidence can only improve an investigation," Sandercock said. "By getting the laboratory results back quickly, investigators can use this information to ask the right questions when interviewing people or evaluating other evidence, which will help them resolve the case more quickly by pointing them in the right direction."
The U of A study, published recently in Forensic Science International, is the first to use a mathematical model to successfully classify debris pulled from suspected arson scenes, going beyond research based solely on simulated debris.
Harynuk's team began working with the RCMP's forensic lab in 2008, looking to develop tools for interpreting chemical data. Arson investigation was a logical fit.
"Arson debris provides an interesting set of samples because it is uncontrolled," Harynuk said. "You never know what is going to be in the fire, or how it started. Paint thinners, gasoline, kerosene are all very complex mixtures, and we wanted to develop a tool that would be able to pick a complex signature out of an equally complex background."
Volatile compounds released in a fire can mask the vital chemical data that RCMP scientists need to pinpoint, Sandercock noted. "It can be like looking for a needle in a haystack."
Currently, an RCMP forensic scientist examines data from a sample, which is then re-examined by a second scientist to see whether they agree on the findings—a process that can take hours per sample. The average arson investigation yields three or four samples.
The technology developed at the University of Alberta would allow the first scientist to run findings through the computer program, getting an answer in seconds. Only if the computer gave a result different from that of the scientist would the debris sample go to a second human analyst.
For their work, Harynuk and his team focused on gasoline, the most commonly used ignitable liquid in arsons. They analyzed data from 232 chemical samples provided by the RCMP's lab services, drawn from fire debris in cases under investigation across Canada. From chemical profiles taken from burned carpet, wood and cloth, they were able to develop a computer filter that isolated the signature of gasoline in the data. This signature was then used to indicate whether or not gasoline was present in the debris sample, a possible indicator of it being used to start a fire.
"It's a system that is quite accurate and goes down a similar investigative path that a human would when looking at the data," Harynuk said.
The research was supported by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), Alberta Innovates – Technology Futures and the U of A's Department of Chemistry.
Bev Betkowski | Eurek Alert!
Magnetic Quantum Objects in a "Nano Egg-Box"
25.07.2017 | Universität Wien
3-D scanning with water
24.07.2017 | Association for Computing Machinery
Physicists working with researcher Oriol Romero-Isart devised a new simple scheme to theoretically generate arbitrarily short and focused electromagnetic fields. This new tool could be used for precise sensing and in microscopy.
Microwaves, heat radiation, light and X-radiation are examples for electromagnetic waves. Many applications require to focus the electromagnetic fields to...
Strong light-matter coupling in these semiconducting tubes may hold the key to electrically pumped lasers
Light-matter quasi-particles can be generated electrically in semiconducting carbon nanotubes. Material scientists and physicists from Heidelberg University...
Fraunhofer IPA has developed a proximity sensor made from silicone and carbon nanotubes (CNT) which detects objects and determines their position. The materials and printing process used mean that the sensor is extremely flexible, economical and can be used for large surfaces. Industry and research partners can use and further develop this innovation straight away.
At first glance, the proximity sensor appears to be nothing special: a thin, elastic layer of silicone onto which black square surfaces are printed, but these...
3-D shape acquisition using water displacement as the shape sensor for the reconstruction of complex objects
A global team of computer scientists and engineers have developed an innovative technique that more completely reconstructs challenging 3D objects. An ancient...
Physicists have developed a new technique that uses electrical voltages to control the electron spin on a chip. The newly-developed method provides protection from spin decay, meaning that the contained information can be maintained and transmitted over comparatively large distances, as has been demonstrated by a team from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics and the Swiss Nanoscience Institute. The results have been published in Physical Review X.
For several years, researchers have been trying to use the spin of an electron to store and transmit information. The spin of each electron is always coupled...
26.07.2017 | Event News
21.07.2017 | Event News
19.07.2017 | Event News
27.07.2017 | Life Sciences
27.07.2017 | Life Sciences
27.07.2017 | Health and Medicine