20 October 2015

Glowing fingerprints to fight crime

A CSIRO scientist who had his home broken into has developed a new crime scene identification technique to help fingerprint criminals.

Glowing fingerprints to fight crime

Show transcript

[Music plays, CSIRO logo appears on bottom right hand corner of screen, and text appears:  Scientist takes crime scene investigation into his own hands]

[Image changes to show person breaking into a house in a suburban street]

[Image changes to show various images of the intruder searching through drawers and cupboards in the house and placing items into a bag]

[Image changes to show Dr Kang Liang driving down a street in a car, and then pulling into the driveway of the house]

[Image changes to show the intruder running out of the back of the house and climbing over a fence]

[Image changes to show Dr Kang Liang entering the front door of the house]

Dr Kang Liang:  I came home after a long day at work.  When I walked inside I noticed that the house was in a state.  We had been robbed.  Drawers were wide open with stuff spilling out.

[Image changes to show Dr Kang Liang walking through the house and discovering the break in]

Pillows were scattered around.  Of course some of my favourite things were missing.  I called the police.

[Image changes to show a police forensic officer dusting for fingerprints in various places throughout the house]

They come to investigate.  The police dusted the area for fingerprints, but didn’t find anything.

[Image changes to show Dr Kang Liang sitting at a desk reading through a textbook]

It got me thinking, what if I could apply some of the special materials I’d been working with in the lab to come up with a new, potentially better fingerprinting technique?

[Image changes to show Dr Kang Liang entering the front door and walking through the house]

[Image changes to show Dr Kang Liang and text appears on screen:  Dr Kang Liang, Materials Scientist, CSIRO]

I got solutions containing tiny crystals, and I’m going to show you how police and forensic experts can use these crystals to make fingerprints glow at the scene of the crime.

[Image changes to show Dr Kang Liang demonstrating how to apply the solution]

So all we need to do is to take a few drops of solution we developed at CSIRO and we can apply the solution right on the surface where the fingerprints are located, and all we need to do is to wait for 30 seconds and we can shine a blacklight on it, and then we can review a very strong green fluorescent coloured fingerprint pattern.

[Image changes to show the lamp where the solution has been applied and a green fluorescent fingerprint appears]

The tiny crystals rapidly bind to a fingerprint residue to create a thin coating that is an exact replica of the pattern.

[Image change to show Dr Kang Liang holding up the lamp switch and showing the fingerprint revealed]

Look how the fingerprint glows.

[Image changes as the camera zooms in on the fingerprint]

It works on any nonporous surface such as metal, plastic and glass.  The key advantage is that the crystals grow around the fingerprint in just 30 seconds, and the strong fluorescent effect, it involves higher resolution images to be taken for more precise and better analysis.

[Image changes to show Dr Kang Liang applying the solution to the lamp switch]

[Image changes to show a green fluorescent fingerprint appearing]

You can imagine using digital technology to take these images and then send them to the database in real time.

[Image changes back to Dr Kang Liang]

We hope to work with police and law enforcement agencies to apply this technique so that it’s used in real life crime scene investigations.

[Image changes back to show Dr Kang Liang holding up the lamp switch with the green fluorescent fingerprint and text appears on screen:  So burglars beware, that’s why you shouldn’t mess with scientists!]

[CSIRO logo appears with text: Big ideas start here www.csiro.au]

Hide transcript

By adding a drop of liquid containing crystals to surfaces, investigators using a UV light are able to see invisible fingerprints “glow” in about 30 seconds.

The strong luminescent effect creates greater contrast between the latent print and surface enabling higher resolution images to be taken for easier and more precise analyses.

The research was published in the Advanced Materials journal today.

CSIRO materials scientist Dr Kang Liang believes that this technique could be used for more challenging evidence where conventional ‘dusting’ is not appropriate.

“While police and forensics experts use a range of different techniques, sometimes in complex cases evidence needs to be sent off to a lab where heat and vacuum treatment is applied,” Dr Liang said.

“Our method reduces these steps, and because it’s done on the spot, a digital device could be used at the scene to capture images of the glowing prints to run through the database in real time.”

CSIRO’s study shows that tiny crystals rapidly bind to fingerprint residue, including proteins, peptides, fatty acids and salts, creating an ultrathin coating that’s an exact replica of the pattern.

“Because it works at a molecular level it’s very precise and lowers the risk of damaging the print,” Dr Liang said.

CSIRO tested the method on nonporous surfaces including window and wine glass, metal blades and plastic light switches, with successful results.

Fingerprint identification has been used as a key method by law enforcement and forensic experts for over 100 years. Adding CSIRO’s method to the mix could save valuable time, costs and enhance investigations.  

“When my house was broken into I saw how common practice fingerprinting is for police,” Dr Liang said.

“Knowing that dusting has been around for a long time, I was inspired to see how new innovative materials could be applied to create even better results.

“As far as we know, it’s the first time that these extremely porous metal organic framework (MOF) crystals have been researched for forensics.”

MOF crystals have a number of benefits in that they are cheap, react quickly and can emit a bright light. The technique doesn’t create any dust or fumes, reducing waste and risk of inhalation.

The method could have other valuable applications including new biomedical devices and drug delivery.

CSIRO is now looking to partner with law enforcement agencies to apply the technique. The full research paper can be accessed from Advanced Materials .

Additional resources


  • Close up view of fingerprint glowing with MOF crystals. Download image

    CSIRO has come up with a new way to gather fingerprint evidence.

  • Glowing fingerprints on light switches. Download image

    The method is done on the spot and only takes 30 seconds.

  • Close up view of fingerprints glowing with MOF crystals. Download image

    Different colours can be achieved by altering the chemistry of the solution. This photo shows the method on the blades of two knives.

  • Glowing fingerprints on a pair of scissors. Download image

    The new method can reveal fingerprints on metal, plastic and glass.


  • Ms Emily Lehmann

    Communication Manager - Mineral Resources · Communications

    • Phone:
      • +61 3 9545 8746
      • +61 419 271 822 (Mobile)

    Email: Emily.Lehmann@csiro.au

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