Fingerprint (World of Forensic Science)
Fingerprints are the impressions that are left behind by tiny ridges in the skin on the tips of the fingers and on the palms of the hand. The patterns left by these ridges, which are called friction ridges, are unique to every person. They are determined by the time a fetus is about six months old and they remain constant throughout a person's life. Even identical twins with identical DNA have different patterns of friction ridges on their fingers. Although many features of a person can be changed, fingerprints cannot. As a result, fingerprints are an extremely important tool for identification of individuals.
The outer layer of skin contains many microscopic pores that secrete sweat and oils. Sweat is mostly water, but it contains a very small fraction (1.5%) of salt, amino acids, and proteins. These
Detectives look for fingerprints at crime scenes in locations where things have been broken or disturbed. They also usually check the doorknobs and doorways, where a criminal may have entered or exited. Fingerprints can be found on a variety of surfaces including paper, human skin, smooth surfaces, painted surfaces, glass, the insides of gloves and firearms. They can last for a just a few hours in cold, dry weather or they may be visible indefinitely in warm, moist environments.
Fingerprints are classified into three groups. Plastic prints are prints that make an impression on a pliant surface like putty or tacky paint. Visible prints occur when someone has a material on their fingers that leaves a visible mark, such as blood, ink, or make-up. The most common fingerprints are called latent prints and they are formed from the oils and residues on the hands. Latent prints must be developed using one of many different chemical techniques.
Dusting for fingerprints is the most common technique for visualizing a latent print. This process begins by dipping a very soft brush into very fine powder. Most fingerprint kits contain black, gray, white, and red powders and the detective will choose a color of powder that contrasts best with the surface on which the print has been left. The detective carefully brushes the powder over the print and then blows the excess powder away. After the print becomes visible, it is photographed and then transferred onto special tape in a process called lifting.
Several other chemicals and techniques are commonly used to develop latent prints, and they are chosen depending on the surface and other environmental conditions. A chemical called ninhydrin, which is attracted to the amino acids that remain on the skin after the water in sweat evaporates, is used to develop fingerprints on paper. Iodine fumes can also be used to develop fingerprints on paper. The iodine vapors react with oils, turning them a brownish-violet color. Surfaces containing fingerprints can be dipped into or sprayed with silver nitrate, which turns black in the presence of salt. SuperglueTM fumes, which produce white crystals in the presence of moisture in the fingerprints, are also commonly used to develop latent prints. In addition, specialized light sources, such as lasers and ultraviolet lights, can be used to make latent prints appear in situations where chemical techniques are impractical.There are three basic classifications of fingerprints: arches, loops, and whorls. Of these, loops are by far the most common, next are whorls and a small fraction are arches. Arches are classified into plain arches, which are generally symmetric arched friction ridges, and tented arches, which become so
Fingerprint experts start with the basic patterns of friction ridges when they study fingerprints, but they depend heavily on the details called minutiae within fingerprints. These minutiae include ridge endings, dots, short ridges, bifurcations, and trifurcations. In addition, the location of sweat pores and the pores for oil glands serve as markers that can be used for identification.
SEE ALSO Bloodstain evidence; Crime scene investigation; Fingerprint; Superglue® fuming.