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UCL Centre for the Forensic Sciences

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Beth Wilks

Research synopsis: Development of an innovative Improvised Explosive Device (IED) exploitation tool.

Contact: 35 Tavistock Square, London WC1H 9EZ or email

Development of an innovative Improvised Explosive Device (IED) exploitation tool using forensic geoscience.

Geoforensic techniques: Geoforensic techniques are invaluable in that they facilitate discrimination between different geographical locations at varying scales, and allow the identification of links between people, places and objects. The use of geoforensics in criminal investigations for intelligance and prosecution is rapidly evolving with the diversification of analytical techniques, many of which are automated, facilitating prompt analysis of large sample sets. However, the use of geoforensics to address the pressing international security threat IEDs pose, is yet to be considered.

IEDs: The use of IEDs spans geographical and political borders, with their deployment observed in both zones of conflict and peace. They are typically distributed along supply chains involving multiple stages including material sourcing, construction, storage and emplacement. My research investigates the use of geoforensics as a method by which to identify the geographical location of supply chain nodes and to reconstruct the journey of an IED along its supply chain. In doing so, one can begin to link devices to places and potentially perpetrators, in an endeavour to attack components of the human network that facilitate the global proliferation of IEDs.

Investigating supply chains: Supply chains will be simulated to assess the transfer and persistence of material onto devices and to produce representative samples for analysis. The characteristics of the samples recovered from the simulations will be considered in combination with the operational capabilities of a defence organisation to generate reference databases, to evaluate the applicability of the range of different analytical techniques and equipment available to the geoforensic scientist. Those identified as most appropriate will then be applied to the representative samples to establish whether it is possible to reconstruct part or all of the journey history of the IEDs, through simulated supply chains. 

Optimising technology and equipment: Techniques and equipment will be developed to optimise their application. Simulations will also assess the presence of preferential transfer and decay of environmental materials, to limit false executions and associations. To address stakeholder expectations of frontline forensics, techniques and equipment will be evaluated to facilitate recommendations for the development of suitable portable equivalents.

Oral presentations
Forensic Geoscience: an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) Exploitation Tool. Forensic Geoscience: Future Horizons, London, UK, 3rd December 2014.
From foraging to farming, a sub-seasonal isotopic study of human tooth enamel from earliest Neolithic to Chalcolithic Mehgarh, Pakistan. (Postgraduate seminar at the earth sciences department at Royal Holloway University, London, UK, 2013).
Poster presentations
A Sub-Seasonal Isotopic Study of Human Tooth Enamel from Neolithic Mehrgarh. Geochemistry Group, Research in Progress meeting 2013, Milton Keynes, UK.