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Guilt on their hands: tiny 'tags' could help to solve and deter gun crime
Date:8/1/2008

Criminals who use firearms may find it much harder to evade justice in future, thanks to an ingenious new bullet tagging technology developed in the UK.

The tiny tags just 30 microns* in diameter and invisible to the naked eye are designed to be coated onto gun cartridges. They then attach themselves to the hands or gloves of anyone handling the cartridge and are very difficult to wash off completely.

Crucially, some of these 'nanotags' also remain on the cartridge even after it has been fired. This should make it possible to establish a robust forensic link between a cartridge fired during a crime and whoever handled it.

To date it has been extremely hard to establish such a link because of the difficulty in retrieving fingerprints or significant amounts of DNA from cartridge surfaces, which are shiny and smooth. The nanotags, which are quite unlike anything previously used in the fight against gun crime, could therefore lead to a significant increase in successful convictions.

This breakthrough has been achieved by a team of chemists, engineers, management scientists, sociologists and nanotechnologists from Brighton, Brunel, Cranfield, Surrey and York Universities, with funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

"The tags primarily consist of naturally-occurring pollen, a substance that evolution has provided with extraordinary adhesive properties," says Professor Paul Sermon from the University of Surrey, who has led the research. "It has been given a unique chemical signature by coating it with titanium oxide, zirconia, silica or a mixture of other oxides. The precise composition of this coating can be varied subtly from one batch of cartridges to another, enabling a firm connection to be made between a particular fired cartridge and its user."

In addition to this breakthrough, the team has also developed a method of trapping forensically-useful amounts of DN
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Contact: Natasha Richardson
natasha.richardson@epsrc.ac.uk
44-017-934-44404
Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council
Source:Eurekalert

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