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Law Enforcement Investigators Intrigued by UAF Student's Project

FAIRBANKS (AP) - A University of Alaska Fairbanks chemistry student's senior research project is getting some extracurricular attention.

Local law enforcement investigators are now looking at UAF senior Laurie Martin's research on a solution used to detect blood at crime scenes and may decide to employ the chemical.

Fluorescine could be a replacement for another solution, luminol, that has been used to detect otherwise unseen blood at a crime scene.

Martin said the solution has been tested in California and used in some cases in Great Britain, but has yet to be accepted in many states including Alaska. But that may change soon.

Walter McFarlane from the state crime lab said he was encouraged by the effectiveness of fluorescein. He and criminologist Jim Wolfe were in Fairbanks this week teaching classes at UAF's Tanana Valley Campus Law Enforcement Academy.

Martin demonstrated how the fluorescein works to a class of about 30 academy students, Wolfe, McFarlane, and local law enforcement Wednesday morning.

The fluorescein was combined with a buffer solution then sprayed on two sets of bloody shoeprints, one still visible and the other wiped clean. After the fluorescein dried, hydrogen peroxide was sprayed on the area.

Next, the room's lights were turned off and Martin shined an ultraviolet light on the sprayed area.

"The UV light excites the chemical at a certain wavelength that allows us to see the emitting wavelength," Martin explained.

The previously hidden shoeprints glowed fluorescent green as evidence.

For law enforcement, the results are the bottom line.

"It think it's excellent," said Fairbanks Police Detective Tara Tippett.

After explaining the chemical makeup of the solution, Martin listed the benefits of using the solution over luminol.

The fluorescein works for 14 minutes, while luminol lasts only 30 seconds. This would allow investigators to extract more evidence from the bloody scene than simply taking a single photograph of it.

Addtitionally, after the 14 minutes expire, hydrogen peroxide can be reapplied for another 14 minutes of visibility without destroying the blood sample.

Martin said other research has proven that DNA can be extracted from the bloody spots that have been treated with fluorescein whereas luminol destroys all chances of collecting further evidence afterward.

Fluorescein is also nontoxic, which is one of the reasons detectives have been using the harmful luminol less and less, Tippett said.

The research project could very well be the ticket to her dream job.

"I want to solve crimes," Martin said. "I want to be the crime scene responder, track down the evidence and bring it back and research it."

Alaska State Trooper Sgt. Ron Wall liked what he saw during the demonstration and said he would be willing to use fluorescein with Martin's help at future crime scenes.

"It's one more tool. The guy with the most tools in the tool box has the most chances to solve the crime," Wall said. "We're always willing to learn."

Martin has been taking classes at UAF since 1994. She graduated with a degree in psychology with the hopes of becoming a crime profiler, but after working in forensics at the Eugene, Ore., police department as part of a student exchange program, she tackled her second major in chemistry.

With the help of chemistry Professor Cathy Cahill, she hopes her research findings will be published, but she would prefer to see it put to more practical use.

"I'm not in it for the publication," Martin said. "I think it's more important for crime-scene investigators to use this."

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