OAK RIDGE (WATE) -- Fingerprints that used to escape detection could soon be used to help solve crimes, thanks to work at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
"This tool can help researchers as well as crime scene investigators detect fingerprints that otherwise and hereto would be undetectable," says Maggie Connatser, an ORNL scientist.
ORNL is developing this fingerprint technology with the help of a private company, ChemImage, which built the instrument. It reads the chemicals that make up a fingerprint.
"This is a Raman chemical imager. Inside, there is a light source and optics that direct light where I place the sample with the fingerprint," Connatser explains.
ORNL has also teamed up with federal and local agencies including the Knoxville Police Department.
"If they can figure out how to make it compact, make it inexpensive, and make it available to all levels of law enforcement, it's going to be really big," says Tim Schade, senior Knoxville police evidence technician.
In the meantime, Schade says lifting fingerprints isn't as easy as most people think. He refers to the CSI effect.
"The public's expectations are really high because of what they see on TV. They get fingerprints off every surface, and it always matches someone already in the system," Schade says. "And it's not quite that way."
That's because fingerprints degrade over time, mostly due to light, and it's hard to get a print off many surfaces.
ORNL has the ultimate goal of using the technology to take fingerprints left on human skin, most likely a victim's body.
When it's ready, Schade says the Knoxville Police Department will likely test it.
"It's nice to be on the cutting edge of technology and being the first people to use it and see how it works," Schade says.
This project is sponsored by the National Institute of Justice and began in December 2005.
It's one of many reasons why Schade says Knoxville and Oak Ridge have become hubs for forensic science.
Besides ORNL's dedication to this area of research, the University of Tennessee's National Forensic Academy just announced the opening of a new training facility in Oak Ridge.
It's expected to be one of the nation's premier training grounds for crime scene investigators.