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Home > Frequently Asked Questions > Equipment in Mondern Forensic Science Centers





Examples of Some of the Equipment Used in a Modern Forensic Science Center -
Crime Lab & CSI Section

DNA Processing and Analysis Equipment.  Highly specialized and technical equipment such as: DNA Analyzer, interchangeable block thermal cycler with laser fluorescence detection and multiplex capabilities, Bioanalyzer (for the analysis of proteins, DNA and RNA), and spectrophotometer.  Industrial/forensic quality freezers and refrigerators, stereo microscopes, and other equipment are also required.

Blood Alcohol Analysis and Narcotics Analysis Equipment.  Gas Chromatograph with Headspace Sampler, autoclave, and other specialty equipment used for the determination of forensic blood alcohol levels.  Gas Chromatograph Mass Spectrometer, hydrogen generator, and additional equipment for the analysis of narcotics and controlled substances.

Field and Laboratory High Power Forensic Lasers.  Can be used to locate untreated fingerprints on difficult surfaces such as dry walls, paper, fabric and skin.  Helps locate fibers, body fluids, bone fragments, teeth and skin fragments for DNA testing; and a variety of other types of trace evidence, even in high ambient light environments.

Multi-bay vehicle processing garage with vehicle lifts.  To enable Crime Scene Analysts and Accident Investigators to simultaneously process 6-8 vehicles and their associated evidence in a secure laboratory environment.  The lifts will enable the examination of the undercarriage, wheels, processing tires for tire print comparison, etc.

Evidence drying cabinets.  To safely dry clothing and other items containing blood and other body fluids.  Protects the Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) Section employees, forensic laboratory analysts, and other building occupants from infectious pathogens and noxious odors, and reduces cross-contamination of evidence.

Integrated Ballistics Identification System (IBIS).  IBIS equipment is used to compare firearms related evidence stored in the database.  IBIS digitally captures the images of fired bullets and fired cartridge cases from crime scenes and test fires from recovered firearms.  When images are entered, the system searches the existing database for a match.  When a possible match is observed, a Firearms Examiner must compare the actual evidence with a comparison microscope.  Once an identification has been made by the examination of the actual evidence, a “hit” is noted in the system.  A hit is defined as a linkage of at least two different crime investigations where there previously had been no known connection.  The database used by the system is the National Integrated Ballistics Information Network (NIBIN) developed by the FBI and the ATF.  NIBIN allows for links between investigations across jurisdictional boundaries.  Source: FBI

Firearms Test Bay and Examination Rooms.  Used by Firearms Examiners to test firearms, conduct forensic examinations of the weapons, and obtain expended cartridge cases and bullets for entry into the NIBIN database.

Photogrammetry Equipment.  Dimensions can be derived from photographic images through the use of geometric formulae or on-site comparison. Examples of photogrammetry include determining the height of bank robbery subject(s) and the length of the weapon(s) used by the subject(s) depicted in the surveillance films.  Source: FBI  

Comparison microscopes.  For comparative analysis of traces on fired ammunition, toolmarks, documents, etc.  Used to conduct fracture match analysis (comparing two separate surfaces or items to determine if they originated from the same source)

Trinocular and projection microscopes.  Particularly useful in examination and photography of hair,  textiles, fibers, fabrics, and other trace evidence.  Also enables lab employees, instructors and students to simultaneously view the same items during analysis, training or proficiency examinations. 

Hair examinations can determine whether hairs are animal or human. Race, body area, method of removal, damage, and alteration (e.g., bleaching or dyeing).  Examinations can associate a hair to a person on the basis of microscopic characteristics in the hair but cannot provide absolute personal identification. The animal species and family can also be determined from hair analysis.  Source: FBI
Fiber examinations can identify the type of fiber such as animal (wool), vegetable (cotton), mineral (glass), and synthetic (manufactured). Questioned fibers can be compared to fibers from victim(s)' and suspect(s)' clothing, carpeting, and other textiles. A questioned piece of fabric can be physically matched to known fabric. Fabric composition, construction, and color can be compared, and impressions on fabric and from fabric can be examined. Clothing manufacturers' information can be determined by label searches.  Source: FBI

High resolution questioned document examination workstation.  For examination of questioned documents (altered or forged checks, etc.)

Ink examinations.  Examining inked writing in conjunction with other techniques can provide details regarding document preparation. The composition of writing inks varies with the type of writing instrument (e.g., ballpoint pen, fountain pen, porous-tip pen) and the date of the ink manufacture. In general, inks are composed of dyes in solvents and other materials that impart selected characteristics. Ink analysis is usually limited to comparisons of the organic dye components. When ink formulations are the same, it is not possible to determine whether the ink originated from the same source to the exclusion of others. Examinations cannot determine how long ink has been on a document.  Source: FBI

Identification of class and individual characteristics on documents. Class characteristics are those features which are common to a group of similar objects.  Individual characteristics are those features which are unique to a given object and set it apart from similar objects.  An example is when you purchase two pair of the same type of shoe.  The soles will have the same patterns and manufacturer’s marks.  However, as the shoes are worn, the soles become uniquely worn, chipped by small rocks, etc., creating individual characteristics that can be used to identify a specific shoe that created an impression at a crime scene. Similar (but more subtle) unique changes can occur when paper is manufactured, documents are produced, handled, etc.

Updated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS).  The Henderson Police Department currently has the Motorola Omnitrak AFIS.  It has the capability of electronically searching fingerprints and palmprints from crime scenes.  The technology that existed when the current system was installed has been improved substantially.  The current system must be upgraded to include new hardware, upgrade the database application, and increase the storage capacity for fingerprints and palmprints. 

Add thousands of palm prints to existing AFIS database for electronic searches.  Many local law enforcement agencies have been collecting palm prints at their jails during the booking process.  However, no other agency in the State (besides Henderson PD) can currently conduct electronic searches of those palm prints. Adding the palmprints from other agencies would help develop a larger database that can be made available to multiple jurisdictions to solve crime, prevent crime and save lives.

Ten-Print Review Station.  Linked to AFIS to allow Ten-Print Analysts to conduct quality control and verify prints obtained from persons booked into the jail.  This is particularly useful in identity theft cases, or when persons are attempting to be booked under another person’s name.  Note: Ten-print (10-print) is the term used to identify the fingerprint card obtained at jails during the booking process, or in the case of criminal justice applicants or other persons who must have their fingerprints sent to the FBI. 

High Quality Ventilation and Filtration System.  Regulated positive and negative flows of air in specific processing rooms and areas.  Filter all air circulating within the laboratory facility, and prior to exhausting from the building.

Scanning Electron Microscope to test for the presence of gunshot residue on hands, clothing and other surfaces.

Gunshot Residue on Hands Examinations.  When a firearm is discharged, vaporous and particulate materials called gunshot residue (GSR) are expelled. After collecting gunshot residue from a suspected shooter's hands, the major elemental components of most cartridge primer mixtures can be analyzed to associate a suspect with a recent discharge of gunpowder from a firearm. This examination is used to determine if a person was in the presence of gunshot residue within a limited time period after a weapon discharge.  Source: FBI

Gunshot Residue on Victim's Clothing The deposition of gunshot residue on evidence such as clothing varies with the distance from the muzzle of the firearm to the target. Patterns of gunshot residue can be duplicated using a questioned firearm and ammunition combination fired into test materials at known distances. These patterns serve as a basis for estimating muzzle-to-garment distances. Source: FBI

Vacuum Metal Deposition Chamber.  Vacuum Metal Deposition is a process where metals, primarily small particles of gold and zinc, are flash heated causing them to evaporate to atomic size, and deposit on the evidence while under vacuum.  Only a small amount of metal is necessary and the results are quick with no resulting damage to the rest of the evidence.  This technology is superior in the recovery of latent fingerprints and is in wide use in the United Kingdom and Canada.  It has long been used to recover prints where no prior processes were able.  These prints are also higher in quality with greater definition when compared to those of many other techniques.
Reference: www.scafo.org/library/110502.html

Evidence Photography Light Boxes.  To adequately illuminate gel lifts and transparent lifts of shoe impressions on a variety of surfaces, and allow for properly lit photographs of the evidence.

Forensic video analysis equipment to conduct examinations including:

  • Photographic Comparisons.  Examinations of film, negatives, digital images, photographic prints, and video recordings including surveillance images.  Comparisons of subjects depicted in the questioned images with known images (e.g., photographs, videos) of suspects. Comparisons can be made between the subject’s clothing and clothing seized from the suspect. Comparisons can also be made with firearms, vehicles, and other objects depicted in surveillance images.  Source: FBI    
  • Authenticity and Image Manipulation Detection.  Photographic evidence including film, video, and digital images can be examined to determine whether the image is the result of a composite, an alteration, or a copy. Source: FBI    



Southern California Association of Fingerprint Officers, www.scafo.org/library/110502.html
Sources indicated as “FBI” are from the FBI Handbook of Forensic Services, www.fbi.gov


Image Credit: The President's DNA Initiative - Advancing Justice Through DNA Technology, www.dna.gov
  Graphic of DNA The Molecule of Life  

Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) "The Molecule of Life"

Forensic DNA analysis on saliva, skin tissue, blood, hair, and semen is used to link criminals to crimes in sexual assaults, homicides, and other crimes; prevent future crimes; solve cold cases; and exonerate the innocent. www.dna.gov

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