Developments in FTIR analysis are speeding up criminal investigations. Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy, or FTIR analysis, is at the scene of the crime, yielding immediate results. Throughout the United States, law enforcement agencies are using FTIR analysis in order to obtain lab testing results without delay, notes forensic scientist Peter Massey. “The goal is to bring the laboratory out to the crime scene,” Massey said. “This is where the future of forensic science is going.”
FTIR Analysis is Mobile and Lightweight
FTIR analysis is a technique used to identify drugs in a variety of gases, liquids and solids. For decades, FTIR analysis could be performed only in forensic laboratories with the aid of large, cumbersome equipment. Speaking earlier this year at the University of New Haven in West Haven, CT, Massey, a former detective in the Hamden Police Department, said that today, engineers have been able to develop lightweight and mobile FTIR analysis tools that collects spectral data from items found at the crime scene.
FTIR analysis is a materials testing and materials characterization technique that identifies mainly organic materials. FTIR analysis is used to spot unknown materials and/or quantify surface contamination on a material. Due to the speed and simplicity of the process, FTIR analysis is a preferred material analysis technique. Bringing analytical techniques directly to the crime scene means that investigators can inspect and process a crime scene much more quickly.
Dangerous Powders Identified
In February 2013, Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy received a letter that contained an unknown powder. “Less than 10 years ago, that situation would have been handled much differently,” explained Massey. Prior to 2006, the protocol for handling explosive powders required crime fighting agencies to destroy the substance with bleach which frequently led to loss of fingerprint evidence. Now, Raman spectroscopy, a sister technique to FTIR analysis, allows investigators to “almost immediately” identify hazardous powders and explosives without destroying potentially important evidence.
Lightweight, handheld FTIR analysis devises are designed to give quick, precise, on-the-spot characterization and identification of forensic samples. Unknown materials are identified by searching the spectrum against a database of reference spectra. FTIR analysis provides exact measurements without harming the sample.
“It’s great how the crime scene is now becoming the real laboratory,” said Hanko Dobi, the University of New Haven librarian.