x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Tell-tale technology

The science of fingerprinting, that mainstay of detective fact and fiction for a century, keeps getting more sophisticated.

Where would the detective adventure be without it? From early examples like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's irrepressible Sherlock Holmes to every contemporary police drama, no crime can defy resolution. After all, the wrongdoer so often leaves behind a tell-tale fingerprint.

The patterns of hand and fingerprints have been used as identifiers since 14th century Persia. The first known conviction based on fingerprints, however, was in Paris in 1902 when Henri-Leon Scheffer left his prints all over a murder scene.

Researchers at Sheffield Hallam University in the UK are taking the technology one step further. In addition to identifying a "perp" whose prints are on file, fingerprint analysis can show if he handled explosives, ingested caffeine, smoked a cigarette, imbibed drugs or even what he had for breakfast. It sounds like science fiction, but actually it's just minute-imaging technology and chemical analysis of trace remnants. On second thought, that sounds like science fiction too.

Law enforcement could gain a valuable tool, but it may be bad news for television dramas. Law & Order might have to devote far more time to the "law" segment of the show if a suspect's complete profile can be worked out in the first five minutes of the show.

That really would be elementary, even for Watson.