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Real-life CSI: What can investigators really tell from gunshot residue?

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Posted March 27, 2014

The popular TV series “CSI” is fiction, but every day, real-life investigators and forensic scientists collect and analyze evidence to determine what happened at crime scenes. In a study published in the ACS journal Analytical Chemistry, scientists say they have developed a more rapid and accurate method that could allow crime scene investigators to tell what kind of ammunition was shot from a gun based on the residue it left behind.

Igor K. Lednev and Justin Bueno point out that when someone fires a gun, burnt particles from the bullet spray out of the weapon onto a shooter’s hand, clothes, furniture and other surfaces nearby. The presence or absence of that residue says whether a gun was discharged and — based on its location on clothing and other surfaces — who and what was near the weapon when it was fired. But current analysis methods can only re-create a crime scene story in hazy detail. The most widely used technique today specializes in detecting the heavy metals that some ammunition contains. Newer bullets, however, aren’t necessarily made with heavy metals, making analyses much more difficult. Also, existing methods require expensive equipment and a lot of time, luxuries law enforcement can’t afford. To bring real-life CSI closer to what’s hyped on TV, Lednev’s team set out to find a new way to trace the ammunition used in a crime.

They developed a novel approach to improve gunshot residue “fingerprinting” that can rapidly detect a wider range of particles than existing methods. “Therefore the ability to detect these chemicals may indicate that a specific ammunition brand was discharged (or was not) during a shooting incident,” the researchers state, adding that their work could also have applications in the fields of homeland security and counter-terrorism.

Source: ACS

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