Editorial Feature

Is Forensic Analysis Benefitted by Nanotechnology?

Nanotechnology has continued to prove its superiority to traditional modes of technology in various different industries including medical, imaging and energy sciences. Within forensic science, the role of nanotechnology has been primarily used to both advance forensic analytic techniques and develop smart materials including micro-chip technology, nanomanipulators, and nanoimaging tools.

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Traditional forensic analysis has typically involved several different techniques and methods used to inspect, gather and analyze trace substances collected from the crime scene. With the incorporation of nanotechnology into forensic analytical tools, these processes have become more accurate, effective and sensitive, while also cutting down the time required to analyze samples.

Fingerprint Identification

The collection of fingerprints from the crime scene has traditionally been achieved by applying a fingerprint powder that is fixed to the residues left by the finger. Once the powder settles, the distinctive patterns of an individual’s fingerprint are commonly developed by different colored materials including carbon black on white or other light-colored background, as well as aluminum flakes on a black or dark-colored background.

Unfortunately, both carbon black and aluminum have a tendency to adhere to the fingerprint powder, thereby limiting the ability to obtain a clear and accurate fingerprint from the crime scene. In an effort to reduce this limitation, nanoparticles have been used as a substitute for colored materials. The smaller size of these nanoparticles increases the sensitivity of this fingerprint identification process, while also providing law enforcement agents with the ability to acquire old or faint fingerprints, as well as those that have been left on more difficult surfaces, such as those made up of adhesive or textured materials.

Fluorescent nanoparticles, in particular, have not only improved the sensitivity of fingerprint analysis; but have also revealed information from these sample types that were previously inaccessible. For example, fluorescent nanoparticles can be engineered with antibodies that bind to metabolites present within the sweat of an individual.

Explosive Residue Detection

Unfortunately, the past several decades have seen an insurmountable increase in terrorism around the world. This enormous growth is largely attributed to the increased simplicity that has been achieved in the manufacturing of explosive-based weapons and devices. When forensic scientists investigate areas following a bomb blast, they are often challenged by the low quantity of unexploded explosives that remain at the site, as well as the high probability of contaminated samples.

To address these concerns, forensic investigators have turned to nano-based technology in order to identify trace amounts of fragmented explosives from crime scenes. With the assistance of high-resolution scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and X-ray spectrometry, particularly when both are used together, forensic analysts can identify gunshot residue after the crime to determine exactly what elements constituted the explosive elements.

DNA Analysis

The ability to accurately identify the DNA of a suspect responsible for committing heinous crimes is a crucial part of many criminal investigations. Traditional DNA analysis requires researchers to perform multiple different steps including extraction, amplification, separation and sequencing; all of which requires a lot of time and money to achieve. The advancements made in nanotechnology has dramatically simplified DNA analysis procedures that can now be performed at a much more rapid and convenient rate.


In addition to the aspects of forensic science mentioned here, nanotechnology has also improved ion beam analysis used to example forensic materials, assist in the screening of drug-facilitated crimes (DFC), such as rape, robbery, money extortion and other assault cases, estimation of time since death and much more. As the field of nanotechnology continues to expand, forensic scientists anticipate the increased practicality of incorporating nanoprobes, nanodevices and nanochips into their analyses.

Nanotechnology will continue to improve each step of the evidence analysis procedure in order to ensure that the right criminals are prosecuted and ultimately prevent future crime from occurring in our society.


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Benedette Cuffari

Written by

Benedette Cuffari

After completing her Bachelor of Science in Toxicology with two minors in Spanish and Chemistry in 2016, Benedette continued her studies to complete her Master of Science in Toxicology in May of 2018. During graduate school, Benedette investigated the dermatotoxicity of mechlorethamine and bendamustine, which are two nitrogen mustard alkylating agents that are currently used in anticancer therapy.


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