UCL Centre for the Forensic Sciences


Kelly Cheshire

Research synopsis: Evaluating geochemical analysis methods for forensic use.

Geochemical analysis of soils and sediments

Trace evidence: Soil and sediments are a form of trace evidence that can provide valuable insight into an investigation. They can be used to ascertain potential provenance, or whether a place or person of interest may be excluded from an investigation.

Chemical analysis: The physical techniques for assessing this form of evidence has been documented thoroughly in the literature, however chemical analysis still requires more attention. Chemical analysis is desirable for several reasons: it can be automated; it is fast; and it allows for simultaneous qualitative and quantitative analysis of major and trace elements.

Aims of research: My research aims to address the issues associated with the geochemical analysis of soil and sediment evidence that are of mixed provenance and from discrete locations.

Techniques used:

  • ICP-MS and ICP-AES will be the main focus of the research as they require a minimal amount of material to conduct the analysis (0.1g) which is essential when working within the forensic domain.
  • XRF will be used in order to compare accuracy between methods.
  • IRMS will be used to establish if isotopes have the potential to discriminate between locations that are of close proximity to one another.
  • QEMSCAN technology will be used to ascertain to what extent sites may be discriminated and mixtures understood, based on their mineralogy.

Establishing a protocol: There is currently no internationally accepted protocol for the analysis of soils and sediments within forensic laboratories. My research will also look to establish a protocol for the collection, storage and preparation of samples (as these can all have an effect on the results obtained from analysis). It is hoped that by deriving a way to obtain accurate geochemical signatures for samples, this information can be used in conjunction with other forms of independent analysis in order to give a meaningful and reliable interpretation of the evidence for use in a court of law.