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USD Researchers Work to Develop Latent Fingerprint and DNA Collection System

Photo of Finger Print Team. The Latent Fingerprint Extraction Team includes (from left to right) Sierra Rasmussen, graduate student; Jon Kellar Ph.D., Mines; William Cross Ph.D., Mines; John Hillard, undergraduate student; John Rapp, graduate student; Stanley May, Ph.D., USD; Jeevan Meruga, Ph.D., SecureMarking, LLC.

VERMILLION, S.D. – Researchers at the University of South Dakota and South Dakota School of Mines & Technology, who are members of the Center for Security Printing and Anti-Counterfeiting Technology (SPACT), have received a grant of more than $840,000 from the National Institute of Justice to research the development of a handheld device that will read fingerprints and potentially collect DNA. The device, which might look like a handheld bar code reader or be attached to a smartphone, uses nanoparticles and infrared light to detect latent fingerprints on surfaces where fingerprint extraction has traditionally been difficult.


“At USD, our role focuses on the nanotechnology aspects of the project. We are taking what we have learned from our basic research on these NIR-responsive nanoparticles and optimizing the nanoparticle characteristics to be suitable for the applications of latent fingerprint development and touch-DNA extraction,” said Stanley May, Ph.D., a professor of chemistry at USD.

Traditional development of fingerprints has limitations due to several factors, such as the surface where fingerprints are found. Tools with neon colored handles, for example, don’t work well with some current methods for enhancing fingerprints because the texture and color of the handle can interfere with the chemicals and wavelengths of light used to visualize the fingerprint.

But new technology developed by SPACT uses nanoparticles that essentially glow in infrared light. These particles also adhere to fingerprint residue, and once applied they can be detected and read using an infrared light and a sensor. After the detailed fingerprint image is captured, the nanoparticles can be collected and potentially used for DNA testing.

“We’re designing the whole system,” says Bill Cross, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Materials and Metallurgical Engineering at SD Mines. “This also could potentially connect via the internet to various fingerprint databases and produce real time results at the scene of the crime or back in the forensic lab.”

The National Institute of Justice grant covers three years of research on the project. With success the new technology could evolve into a commercial application available as a new tool to help law enforcement solve crimes.

“It is gratifying to be able to translate some of our academic accomplishments into the field of forensic technology with the potential to make a significant impact in law enforcement,” said May.


USD's College of Arts & Sciences offers students a top-notch undergraduate liberal arts education in the humanities, social sciences and sciences as well as graduate programs that have earned USD distinction as a research university by the Carnegie Foundation. The college's more than 22,000 alumni include famous journalists, Hollywood screenwriters, novelists, a Nobel Prize winner, South Dakota governors, attorneys, physicians, justices of the state Supreme Court, distinguished university faculty and international humanitarians.


Founded in 1862 and the first university in the Dakotas, the University of South Dakota is the only public liberal arts university in the state, with 202 undergraduate and 84 graduate programs in the College of Arts & Sciences, School of Education, Knudson School of Law, Sanford School of Medicine, School of Health Sciences, Beacom School of Business and College of Fine Arts. With an enrollment of nearly 10,000 students and more than 400 faculty, USD has a 16:1 student/faculty ratio, and it ranks among the best in academics and affordability. USD’s 18 athletic programs compete at the NCAA Division I level.


Hanna DeLange
USD News