The Dynamic Duo used a bewildering arsenal of clever innovations to save the day; Gil Grissom and his CSI team love their magic sprays, which TV land is more than happy to provide. Here’s one that actually exists though: a new chemical which detects urea nitrate, a cheap home-made explosive commonly used by terrorists.
Joseph Almog works in the Forensic Chemistry department of the Hebrew University, Israel, and has wealth of counter-terrorism inventions, rather like the Caped Crusader, under his utility belt. This latest addition, p-dimethylaminocinnamaldehyde, is far easier to make and use than it is to say. It forms a strong red dye when it reacts with urea nitrate, making minute traces of the explosive detectable on almost any surface.
Almog’s wide array of crime-fighting inventions also includes a fingerprint-developing fluorescent agent, Genipin, and Ferrotrace, another spray which turns purple when it reacts with left-over iron on someone’s hands, indicating they’ve held a gun or grenade recently.
As forensics is so well (or is that badly?) presented in the media, it’s refreshing to see some actual science – some real basic chemistry – plugging the holes between TV and real life.