Australian detectives can now use a pinch of dirt or a speck of dust to help solve crimes, thanks to techniques developed at the Australian synchrotron.
Soil composition is as unique as a fingerprint so scientists can analyse dirt samples and, in theory, match their results to specific regions of the Earth’s surface. Until recently, large sample sizes were needed to make this work.
Dr Rob Fitzpatrick, from the Centre for Australian Forensic Soil Science, has used the technique to help detectives to determine the origin of a sample as small as a single grain of sand. Any soil can help with an investigation and the technique has even been used to solve a murder case.
The process works by shining beams of high energy synchrotron light through the sample. Different minerals respond to these rays in different ways. Each grain of dirt shows a specific signature which can be matched in a similar way to detectives comparing fingerprints with those in a database.
The Centre for Australian Forensic Soil Science was established by the CSIRO to keep Australia at the forefront of this area of forensic science. . The centre comprises soil and forensic scientists researching ways to fight crime and terrorism. Soil analysis has been so successful in solving crime, that it is now used by every police force in Australia, with possible applications overseas.
Photo: A speck of dust or a pinch of dirt is now enough to solve a murder.
Centre for Australian Forensic Soil Science, CSIRO, Rob Fitzpatrick, Tel: 618 8303 8511, Rob.Fitzpatrick@csiro.au, www.clw.csiro.au/cafss/