What happens when you cross Star Wars with CSI? A brilliant and dizzying insight into what forensic science looks like centuries from now.
Like nearly every space and sector, forensic science (and the technology which underpins its modern application) is experiencing a rapid evolution. The newest innovations are affecting forensic work at an incredible rate, bringing with them conveniences we’ve never experienced (to make things that much easier, or quicker) — and ethical questions we’ve never debated.
It’s not always the case that more conventional approaches for evaluating, say, trace evidence are considered outdated and old-school; it’s just that the the tools that are emerging out of laboratories and engine rooms are redefining and refining the instruments we’ve already got. In our own lifetimes, we’ve seen an emphasis shift from ink-pad fingerprinting to robust DNA databases — but the more thrilling question is: what lies ahead?
We’ve scoured the depths of recent research and scientific literature to cut out a little window to the future. If you’re an avid futurist with a deep, inconsolable yearning for a new era in forensic science, then we’d advise you to jump onto these brilliant inventions after you’re finished here.
1. The fluorescent parole bracelet: chemically tagging criminals
We’re way beyond Edmond Locard’s “Analysis of Dust Traces” with this one, but this technology isn’t too far away from his original prescription for a crime scene: recognise that there is significant value in linking a suspect to a crime scene through the analysis of trace evidence. Police later discovered that they could do one better and introduce powders at a potential crime scene that the suspect would carry away. We know this today as Theft Detection Powder, which is only visible under ultra-violet light.
There’s a newfangled version of this about: it’s called Pilfa-powder (got to love that name). Like all other fluorescent powders, it’s also invisible. When it comes into contact with water, though, it turns a deep purple colour. The stain it produces can’t be washed off and stays on a suspect’s skin for weeks. We’re all pretty familiar with this being utilised to curb theft at stores displaying high-value items, like jewelry, in windows.
The latest, futuristic version of this uses another invisible, non-toxic chemical spray with a unique dispenser that’s installed above entry and exit points. When an intruder flees, the dispenser is tripped and the spray remains on the skin for up to six weeks (and even longer on clothing). It’s been shown to work wonders on those with slippery fingers.
2. Making a copy: reproducing evidence
Expert witnesses are often limited in court by describing the analysis they carried out on evidence presented to them — but what if it was possible to copy or reproduce it in a way that could allow others in a courtroom to view it? Could there ever be a realistic looking representation of a murder weapon? Or even a human body prior to autopsy, or afterward? In the distant future, perhaps jurors could actually handle these items (where they’re currently less likely to approach the actual objects).
The 3D printer might make these futuristic scenes possible someday. Additive manufacturing (it’s other name) involves making three dimensional solid objects from digital models (or another object). The strange thing? They actually exist. MIT has recently uploaded a Kickstarter project which is calling people to fund their prototype — the possibilities within forensic science and beyond are endless.
It’s true that reconstructions have been used in forensic science since its very inception: after all, what are tool mark impressions, casts of gun barrels and ancient death masks? It’s a significant aspect of presenting evidence in an investigation — and our future might make it even more realistic.
Your Turn: We’ve got more forensic science flying out from the future very soon — but is there any technology or innovation you’d like to add? Astonished by the possibilities we’ve listed here? Let us know. We’d love to hear from you.