Black-light videos from National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) will help crime labs manage an invisible risk. When two scientists from the NIST brought black lights and glow powder into the Maryland State Police crime lab, they weren’t setting up a laser tag studio or nightclub.
Instead, their aim was to study the way drug particles get spread around crime labs when analysts test suspected drug evidence. Their study, recently published in Forensic Chemistry, addresses safety concerns in an age of super-potent synthetic drugs like fentanyl, which can potentially be hazardous to chemists who handle them frequently.
The spread of drug particles cannot be completely avoided — it is an inevitable result of the forensic analyses that crime labs must perform. To see how it happens, the two NIST research scientists, Edward Sisco and Matthew Staymates, fabricated a brick made of white flour mixed with a small amount of fluorescent powder. Under everyday lights the brick looked like evidence from a drug seizure, but under ultraviolet light — also called UV or black light — it glowed a bright orange.
Amber Burns, supervisor of the Maryland State Police forensic chemistry lab and a co-author of the study, examined the brick and its contents as she would real evidence. With a sheet of butcher paper covering her workspace, she cut open the package with a scalpel, scooped out a sample and transferred that scoop into a glass vial for analysis.
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