Forensics



cannabiYesterday evening, over dinner, my friend and I couldn’t help but overhear a man on another table espousing the benefits of cannabis. Over a tiramisu, he stressed how cannabis can cure all ills including cancer and Alzheimer’s (There is some pre-clinical evidence, for these claims, but not all of the literature agrees). What our pro-cannabis lobbyist failed to mention, however, is that the modern cannabis is increasingly ditching the health giving cannabinoids in favour of more and more of the psychoactive tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). (more…)

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Mummifying Alan

Last night I was sitting on my sofa when up popped someone I recognised. Stephen Buckley from the University of York was on Channel 4 talking about his work on mummification. Earlier this year we published a feature looking at the chemistry of mummification, which is some great background to the documentary. But the program was a bit different, this was putting Buckley’s findings to the test on a real human cadaver. Alan, a taxi driver from Torquay, who had terminal lung cancer. Alan answered a classified ad in the paper and left his body to a rather interesting form of science. (more…)

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You’d normally think of fingerprints as just a means of identifying criminals. Important as that is, the marks also contain a wealth of chemical residues which could give access to the sort of clues that would make Inspector Lestrade salivate.

(more…)

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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.Urea nitrate detector on cotton

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.

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