UCL Centre for the Forensic Sciences


Georgia McCulloch

Research synopsis: Organic profiling of soil for the purpose of forensic reconstruction.

Organic profiling of soil for the purpose of forensic reconstruction.

Background: Soil is a potentially useful form of trace evidence, however current analytical techniques focus largely on the inorganic composition or physical characteristics of geoforensic samples. 

Aims of this research: This research aims to investigate the use of High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC). This is a relatively cheap and simple technique which is used in forensic laboratories for more routine samples such as drugs of abuse, to analyse the organic fraction of forensically relevant soil samples. The project will develop a protocol for sampling, storing, handling and analysing geoforensic samples, all of which can have a profound effect on sample composition. The aim is to discriminate forensically relevant soil samples from close-proximity, geologically similar locations. 

Interpretation in court: In addition, through isolating and characterising the most distinctive compounds present in soil, and by determining the temporal and geographical factors that influence the organic composition of soil, the project will build a body of knowledge to aid in the interpretation of geoforensic HPLC data and its presentation in court. HPLC data could be used to corroborate the results of existing, independent analyses of the inorganic fraction of the soil. Therefore the discriminating abilities of HPLC will be assessed relative to a range of established techniques. 

Developing a protocol: The availability of a simple, inexpensive analytical technique, combined with ecologically valid empirical research to justify analytical conclusions, will increase the evidential value of geoforensic samples and could lead to the more frequent use of geoforensic evidence in forensic investigations.