Fingerprint Analysis: Taking Evidence to a Whole New (Nano) Level

Jackie Smith, Science, William Amos Hough High School

Curriculum Unit (pdf)


This unit begins with a brief look at some current applications of nanomaterials in various contexts and then focuses on their use in the field of forensic science, particularly fingerprint analysis.  The basics of fingerprints including their anatomy and development is discussed. The principles underlying fingerprint science are laid out, as are the various types and classifications of fingerprints. The advantages and disadvantages of several current methods for identifying latent fingerprints at crime scenes are discussed. Nanoscience is introduced as an area which may provide answers to some of the current problems in fingerprint analysis. The concept of nanoscale materials is explored. The properties of nanomaterials which make them useful in forensics are discussed. This paper then turns to the specific use of fingerprints to determine whether a person has handled or ingested illicit drugs or been exposed to explosives, poisons or toxins. Current research in the field of biosensors is reviewed with an eye toward working being done to develop quick, cheap and portable devices to enhance fingerprint imaging and extract information for investigative and security purposes. The paper concludes with materials and suggestions for classroom activities for use in teaching forensic applications of nanotechnology to high school students.