Uni moves into forensics

Curtin University of Technology is moving to become an international centre for forensic science research and education and a major source of long-term assistance to nations, particularly in South East Asia, in crime solving through science.

The university has introduced forensic science into its School of Applied Chemistry’s curriculum.

Curtin associate professor John Watling has developed a system for ‘fingerprinting’ gold, diamonds and cannabis in cooperation with mineralogist Hugh Herbert. This system is being offered to police forces internationally.

Professor Watling already has an international reputation in forensic inorganic chemistry and is the codeveloper of spectral fingerprinting.

Professor Watling said new machines recently acquired by the university would allow analysis of very small pieces of evidence – down to about one fiftieth of a millimetre in diameter.

His work in fingerprinting gold led to a cut of gold theft in Australia of 80 per cent.

About $30 million to $40 million worth of gold was being stolen annually from mines. With his fingerprinting techniques, Professor Watling could prove a particular sample of gold came from a particular site.

“Gold fingerprinting is now in case law in the US, UK and Australia. Scene of crime analysis is being used in the UK,” he said.

However, some countries such as Japan do not accept techniques as gold fingerprinting as evidence.

Professor Watling said his branch of forensic science was never going to convict on its own.

“Chemical evidence is only a part of the full portfolio of evidence presented to the court,” he said. “However, it can also help refine an investigation – point the investigators in the right direction.”

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