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Is HPLC a useful addition to current Geo-Forensic Analytical Techniques?

25 March 2013

Georgia McCulloch

Soil is a potentially highly valuable form of trace physical evidence, which can be used by investigators to reconstruct crimes.  HPLC has shown promising results in distinguishing forensically relevant soil samples taken from locations that are close in proximity, using small sample quantities and affordable, standard forensic analytical techniques.  This offers a distinct advantage over many geo-forensic analyses reported in the forensic literature, which have been costly, impractical or lacked ecological validity.  HPLC, which analyses the organic content of soil, can potentially be used to complement existing techniques that test the sample’s inorganic or physical characteristics, thereby increasing the evidential value of the sample.  This project aims to establish the conditions under which HPLC can be used to reliably analyse geo-forensic samples and whether it can be used in conjunction with traditional geological techniques.  The project will explore the temporal and wider spatial variability of soil chromatographic profiles by analysing samples taken from a variety of locations over extended periods of time.  The transfer and persistence of the organic components of soil will be studied by extracting samples from a variety of matrices after exposure to a range of environmental conditions.  Characteristic marker compounds observed during these analyses will also be isolated and identified. Traditional geological analyses will be performed to verify that HPLC is capable of corroborating these results, that HPLC sample preparation is compatible with other techniques and that HPLC offers added value to currently available techniques.  The project will also involve a placement at the James Hutton Institute, which has a specialist soil forensics research group that supports both criminal and civil forensic investigations.