Nanotechnology in Forensic Science | Uncovering the hidden Applications

This blog focuses on providing the concise details nanotechnology and it's useful in field of forensic science

NANOTECHNOLOGYFORENSIC SCIENCE

Shubham Kumar

1/29/20249 min read

Nanotechnology is a valuable tool in forensic science, aiding in the identification and evaluation of materials with evidentiary value. It utilizes unique properties introduced by changes in physical and chemical characteristics to detect fingerprints, drugs, explosives, and more. Nanomaterials enhance PCR efficiency, aiding in DNA analysis. Various nano-based analytical tools like AFM, TEM, SEM, DLS, Raman Microscopy, and TOF-MS are used to visualize and detect trace evidence. AFM, in particular, is widely used in forensic applications for tasks such as determining stroke sequences, estimating time since death, and assessing the age of bloodstains, among others. This paper focuses on AFM and other nanoparticle applications in forensics.

Nanotechnology | A brief introduction

Nanotechnology refers to the branch of science which deals with the creation, manipulation, synthesis and adjustments of nanoparticles in order to unleash their hidden potential and to applicate the same on varied number of fields to enable optimum results. Nanoparticles refers to those particle whose size ranges from 1 Um to 100 Um.

Nanotechnology uses the hidden potential of these particles, this is because, particle at nanoscale possess differentiate abilities as compared to the same particle at their original scale.

For example- gold particle at its original scale may not possess catallactic properties, since it's highly stable metal, however at nanoscale, gold nanoparticles are used in PCR as a catalyst to provide a head start.

The principles of nanotechnology was first time came in light by Dr. Richard Feynman during his lecture "Plenty of space at the bottom of the room" during 1980s.

Nanotechnology in Forensic science

Nanotechnology has varied number of applications and contributions in multiple domains of scientific studies. Forensic science in one of those scientific studies. Nanotechnology provides high quality services in domains of forensic science.

Nanotechnology can benefit forensic science in two main ways: first, by detecting and analyzing samples on a very small scale, and second, by using nanomaterials with unique properties to collect and detect evidence.

Its use involves creating reactive materials, microchips, nanomanipulators, and nanoimaging tools for visualization. Nanotechnology, either alone or combined with other technologies, is useful in various areas such as security, drug screening, detecting explosives and latent fingerprints, analyzing questioned documents, and DNA analysis. Nano-forensics is also evolving with the development of nano-sensors and nano devices to identify anonymous evidence.

General Application of Nanotechnology in Forensic Science

Nanotechnology holds potential to contribute high quality services in almost all the aspects covered under forensic science. The general applications include-

1. Detection of Reactive Minerals: Utilizing nanotechnology for precise detection and analysis of reactive minerals at a molecular level.

2. Micro-Chip Technology: Implementing nanoscale microchips to enhance forensic analysis and data processing.

3. Nano-Manipulators: Employing nanomanipulators for intricate handling and manipulation of forensic samples at a microscopic level.

4. Nano-Imaging for Visualization: Utilizing nano-imaging tools to visualize forensic samples with high resolution and clarity.

5. Security in Documents: Enhancing document security through the integration of nanotechnology, ensuring authenticity and preventing tampering.

6. Drug Screening: Utilizing nanotechnology for efficient and sensitive drug screening processes, enhancing accuracy and speed.

7. Explosive Detection: Enhancing the detection of explosives through the development of nanomaterial-based sensors with high sensitivity and selectivity.

8. Latent Fingerprint Detection: Improving latent fingerprint detection methods through the use of nanomaterials and nanostructures, enhancing accuracy and reliability.

9. Questioned Document Analysis: Employing nanotechnology for the analysis of questioned documents, enabling precise identification of alterations or forgeries.

10. DNA Analysis: Enhancing DNA analysis techniques through the development of nanotechnology-based tools and methodologies, enabling faster and more accurate results.

11. Nano-Sensors and Nano-Devices for Anonymous Evidence: Developing nano-sensors and nano-devices to identify anonymous evidence, improving forensic investigations and evidence collection processes.

Nanotechnology in Forensic Fingerprinting Detection

Fingerprints are the left-over marks or patterns formed by the unique ridges and valleys present on the fingertips of an individual. Fingerprints also serves as a parameter for individual identification, due to it's uniqueness. As no two people can have same fingerprint, and no finger of the same person can have same fingerprints. Therefore, detecting and analyzing fingerprints is very crucial as it encompasses high evidential value.

Enhancing Contrast: Utilizing nano-particles, such as silver in AG-PD solution, as contrast agents to improve visibility and clarity of fingerprint details.

Fluorescent-based Nano-Probes: Introducing fluorescent nano-probes to increase detection sensitivity, facilitating the identification of even faint or obscured fingerprints.

Nano-Porous Materials: Employing nano-porous materials for the analysis of fingerprints, enabling enhanced resolution and extraction of detailed information.

Enhanced Imaging Techniques: Utilizing advanced imaging techniques like Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM) and Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM) at the nanoscale for precise visualization of fingerprint features.

Chemical Enhancements: Implementing chemical enhancements at the nanoscale to reveal latent or aged fingerprints, improving detection accuracy and reliability.

Nano-Fabricated Sensors: Developing nano-fabricated sensors capable of detecting and analyzing fingerprint residues with high sensitivity and specificity.

Nano-Scale Surface Analysis: Conducting nano-scale surface analysis of fingerprint impressions to extract intricate details and enhance forensic analysis.

Nano-Material Based Preservation: Utilizing nano-materials for the preservation of fingerprint evidence, ensuring long-term stability and integrity for subsequent analysis.

Nanotechnology in Forensic Drug Detection

Enhanced Sensitivity- Since Nano-particles are small in size, they possess large surface area to volume ration. They can establish contact with the large number of active sites in a sample and can also detect the traces of drugs from remote areas of body. This ability increases the chances of detection of drugs in a case.

Versatile Sample Analysis- Nanotechnology can be used for detection and quantification of drug traces in multiple biological samples. These biological samples includes- blood, saliva, hair, virous humor and skeletal remains. Moreover, it performs the compressive drug testing across multiple sites in forensic samples. Nanotechnology, provides the results with high evidential values.

Screening and Confirmation: Forensic drug tests typically involve screening and confirmation stages. Nanotechnology-based sensors offer excellent signal amplification, making them ideal for both screening and confirmation purposes. Their unique optical, electrical, thermal, and catalytic properties contribute to accurate and reliable detection.

Molecular Receptors: Nanosensors utilize molecular receptors as templates for detecting specific substances. These receptors can be tailored to recognize target molecules associated with illicit drugs. For example, gold nanoparticles functionalized with antibodies against cotinine can be used to determine if an individual is a smoker based on fingerprint residue.

Electrochemical Detection: Nafion-modified Carbon Paste Electrodes (CPE) can be employed for the voltammetric determination of morphine. This electrochemical approach offers high sensitivity and selectivity for detecting morphine, making it suitable for forensic drug analysis applications.

Surface Plasmon Resonance (SPR) Immunosensors: Methamphetamine can be recognized using Surface Plasmon Resonance (SPR) immunosensors. These sensors exploit the interaction between methamphetamine molecules and specific antibodies, enabling rapid and specific detection of the drug with high sensitivity.

Nano Chip-Based Detection: Nano chip-based detection platforms can be utilized for the detection of various drugs, including gamma Hydroxybutyrate, Benzooylecgonine, and cocaine. These nano chip-based systems offer multiplex detection capabilities, allowing simultaneous analysis of multiple drug compounds with high accuracy and efficiency.

Nanotechnology in Forensic Questioned Document

Nanotechnology offers several innovative applications in document examination and security, as outlined in the passage you provided:

Elemental and Morphological Characterization: Nanoparticles can be added to writing and printing ink formulations to provide unique elemental profiles and morphological characteristics. Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM) images of the ink can reveal these properties, aiding in document analysis.

Self-Erasing Medium and Ink: Gold and silver nanoparticles, with a size of 5 nm each, can be incorporated into ink formulations to create self-erasing medium and ink. When exposed to UV light, these nanoparticles clump together, causing a color change. In visible light, the clumps break, resulting in the disappearing effect of the ink. This technology helps maintain security and secrecy in security documents.

Security Barcodes and RFID Tags: Highly secretive ink containing gold nanoparticles encapsulated in an alkanethiol can be used to create barcodes for military security and Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags. These nanoparticles contribute to the security features of these tags.

Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM): AFM can be utilized to analyze nanomaterials incorporated into documents. It provides qualitative information about the depth of ink crossing, amplitude and phase changes of ink on paper, and crossing sequences. This information is crucial for determining the sequence of lines made by different types of ink, such as ballpoint pen ink and ribbon dye.

Security Tags: Luminescent nanoparticles like quantum dots or nano-sized luminescent phosphors can be incorporated into documents as security tags. These tags enhance document security and deter counterfeiting by providing unique luminescent properties that are difficult to replicate.

Nanotechnology in Forensic DNA Analysis

Nanotechnology offers several valuable applications in forensic DNA analysis, as illustrated in the passage you provided:

Gold Nanoparticles in PCR Enhancement: Gold nanoparticles (AuNPs) with a size of 0.7 nm and properties like superb heat transfer and enhanced Electro-Chemiluminescence (ECL) are utilized to enhance Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) efficiency. This utilization accelerates the thermal cycling process, reducing reaction times and increasing reaction rates. The sensitivity of conventional PCR is improved by approximately 5-10 times, and by more than 10,000 times in real-time PCR, leading to enhanced detection capabilities.

Microfluidic Systems for DNA Quantification: Microfluidic systems are employed for post-PCR quantification, enabling DNA samples to be quantified even in the nanoliter range. Commercially available systems like the Agilent 2100 bioanalyzer can accomplish this quantification within 30 minutes. This technology facilitates mitochondrial DNA quantification, a crucial aspect of forensic DNA analysis.

Magnetic Nanoparticles for DNA Extraction: Magnetic nanoparticles, including silica-based and copper nanoparticles, are utilized for the extraction of high-quality PCR-ready DNA. These nanoparticles serve as efficient solid-phase adsorbents for isolating intact DNA, improving the quality and efficiency of PCR amplification.

Hot Start-Like Effect in Gold Nanoparticle-Based PCR: Studies have observed a hot start-like effect in gold nanoparticle-based PCR, indicating promising applications in nano biological and biomedical studies. This effect enhances the specificity and efficiency of PCR reactions, leading to more accurate and reliable results.

DNA Extraction from Urine Using Magnetic Nanoparticles: DNA extraction from urine is facilitated using organic reagents, with carboxylate magnetic nanoparticles employed as solid-phase adsorbents. This method allows for the isolation of intact DNA suitable for PCR amplification, expanding the range of samples that can be effectively analyzed in forensic DNA analysis.

Nanotechnology in Explosives detection

Nanotechnology offers promising applications in forensic explosives detection, addressing challenges such as the detection of trace amounts of explosives, contaminated samples, and variations in sample collection procedures. Here are some key applications outlined in the passage you provided:

Nanosensors for Explosives Detection: Various nanosensor concepts, including electronic noses, nanocurcumin-based probes, lasing Plasmon nanocavities, nanowires/nanotubes, and nanomechanical devices, show strong potential as technological platforms for trace explosive detection. These sensors utilize polymer particles and nanoparticles that undergo measurable property changes when bound to explosive molecules, enabling high specificity detection of explosives.

Antibodies for Explosive Detection: Antibodies have been developed against specific explosives, such as Penta Erythritol Tetra Nitrate (PETN), contributing to more precise detection methods.

Nanotagging for Gunshot Residue (GSR) Detection: Nanotagging techniques can be employed to detect the presence of GSR residues. High-resolution Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) imaging, combined with X-ray spectrometry, assists in identifying gunshot residue and determining its elemental constituents.

Nanoparticle-Based Probes for TNT Detection: Studies have demonstrated the use of curcumin nanoparticles and amine-terminated nanoparticles as highly selective and sensitive probes for detecting Tri Nitro Toluene (TNT) at ultra-low levels in aqueous solutions. These nanoparticle-based probes offer promising solutions for precise and efficient TNT detection in forensic applications.

Conclusion

Nanoparticles help shrink big instruments into tiny chips, speeding up crime investigations and making them more sensitive and timely. Nanotrackers and barcodes are now used to fight crime, and there are many possibilities for nanotechnology to be used in crime detection, surveillance, and tracking stolen items in the future. However, we need to consider the negative effects too. Nanoparticles moving around in the body due to long-term exposure at work can be harmful. They can damage DNA and cause problems like cell decay and oxidation. Despite this, nanotechnology could be a game-changer in forensic science, aiding in virtual autopsies, crime scene investigations, and improving techniques like fingerprint identification, analyzing questioned documents, studying bullets, and toxicology.

Reference

  • "Forensic DNA Typing" by John M. Butler

  • "The Forensic Casebook: The Science of Crime Scene Investigation" by Ngaire E. Genge

  • "Forensic Science: A Very Short Introduction" by Jim Fraser

  • "Practical Crime Scene Processing and Investigation" by Ross M. Gardner

  • Cantu, Antonio A. "Nanoparticles In Forensic Science." Optics Photon Counterterror Crime Fight 7119 (2008): 134-141.

  • Choi, Mi Jung, McDonagh AM, Maynard P, and Roux C. "Metal Containing Nanoparticles and Nano-Structured Particles in Fingermark Detection." Forensic Sci Int 179 (2008): 87-97.

  • Chen, Yung‐fou. "Forensic Applications of Nanotechnology ." J Chin Chem Soc 58 (2011): 828-835.

  • Shukla, Ritesh K. "Occupational Exposure of Nanoparticles in Forensic Science: A Need of Safe Use." Int J Forensic Sci Pathol 1 (2013): 7-10.

  • Chakraborty, Dhritiman, Rajan G, and Isaac R. "A Splendid Blend of Nanotechnology and Forensic Science." J Nanotechnol Eng Med 6 (2015): 010801.