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FIU Researchers Develop Groundbreaking Gun Powder Forensic Test

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South Florida Crime

MIAMI (CBS4) – As soon as someone commits a crime, investigators begging their search for clues.

Now, FIU researchers here in South Florida think they are breaking ground in forensic science.

“What we are trying to detect is the smokeless powder which is also ejected as the bullet leaves the weapon,” said FIU professor Bruce McCord.

Professor McCord is a chemist who spent nearly a decade working for the FBI. He focused on explosive residue detection. In other words: the evidence when a shot is fired.

“Since I’ve left the FBI and now working as a professor here in FIU I have continued that kind of research,” he said.

That research got him thinking about bullets.

Investigators always look for bullet residue on a person suspected of firing a gun. But some ammunition manufacturers are making bullets without lead. Professor McCord says that makes residue detective difficult because crime labs typically test for lead. Instead, he says, investigators should look at the gun powder inside a bullet.

“A lot of materials are difficult to detect with a single method,” he said.

Some crime labs already look for gun powder, but the process takes hours. Professor McCord says his test takes just eight minutes.

He and his team collect samples by rubbing a cotton swab on the hand. They put the sample into a machine which, ultimately, reveals its chemical composition.

With this test, researchers claim to be able to find out exactly what kind of bullet was fired without ever seeing the gun itself. These new findings will now be published in the Journal of Forensic Sciences.

“When we can develop methods and start seeing them appear on crime laboratories it’s a really great thing for us,” said Professor McCord.

But don’t expect this research to change crime lab methods right away. The current way of testing for residue is admissible in court. The FIU method is not. Professor McCord says it should only be seen as an additional tool for police. Determining how accurate and trustworthy this method is could take years.

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