Prof. Diane Beauchemin analyzes hair in her lab (Photo: Anne Craig)
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system was created by chemist Prof. Diane Beauchemin and student Lily Huang.
involves washing and drying a hair sample, grinding it into a powder, burning
that powder, then using "solid sampling electrothermal vaporisation inductively
coupled plasma optical emission spectrometry with multivariate analysis" (phew)
to analyze the vapor. Doing so allows investigators to identify sweat
secretion-derived elements in the hair, that vary according to factors such as
diet, ethnicity, gender, environment and working conditions.
Huang grinds hair samples for analysis (Photo: Anne Craig)
whole process takes just 85 seconds. That's considerably shorter than DNA
analysis, which involves the use of reagents and solvents. In lab tests, it
accurately identified 13 hair samples as coming from people of East Asian,
Caucasian or South Asian backgrounds, along with their
Although forensic scientists also commonly get such information from blood
samples left at crime scenes, blood can quickly deteriorate or become
contaminated, whereas hair is much more stable.
Beauchemin now plans on refining the technique to identify a wider range of
ethnicities, along with the subject's specific age. A paper on the research was
recently published in the journal Chemistry World.
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