From identification to a chemical fingerprint for explosives in forensic research

The police frequently encounter explosives in their forensic investigations related to criminal and terrorist activities. Chemical analysis of explosives can yield valuable tactical information for police and counter-terrorist units. Within the compass of her doctoral research, Karlijn Bezemer has developed a new generation of tools which can be used to not only identify signature properties of explosives and their raw materials but also to enable comparison of explosives. Bezemer, who works at the Netherlands Forensic Institute (NFI), is set to obtain her Ph.D. at the University of Amsterdam (UvA) on Wednesday, 2 September.

In traditional forensic casework, explosives experts focus on matters such as the chemical identification of an explosive. “Identifying the type of explosive material isn’t the only important aspect, though,” Bezemer explains. “Increasingly, the Public Prosecution Service is asking the NFI whether there might be a link between two crime scenes (e.g. different attacks on ATMs), or between material found at a crime scene and raw materials found at a suspect’s home. The distinctive chemical profiles of explosives can be used to establish (or refute) commonalities in terms of source, thereby assisting with forensic investigations. If the police don’t have a suspect yet, but tactical information can be derived from the explosive material, this could put them on a suspect’s track.”

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