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Forensics and chemical signatures

23 Jul, 2009

Chemical signatures can be used to trace tea, coffee, wine and even gold and silver back to their origin to help solve crime and fraud.

Duration: 13:06

Chemical signatures from products such as tea, coffee and wine can be identified and traced back to where the plants were originally grown. The technique can be used to prevent food fraud by confirming that such products are ‘true to label’.

Using mass spectrometry, the isotopes of the basic elements in a product vary according to the particular soil and climate of their area of origin. This creates a unique chemical signature for a product that can be traced to its source. Coffee and tea, for example, can be traced back to the exact plantation they were grown in. The same system can be used to trace tiny pieces of residue from a crime scene back to a person or place, helping to solve crime and provide reliable evidence in court.

Forensic and analytical chemist John Watling, from the Centre for Forensic Science at the University of Western Australia, explains the technique of mass spectrometry and its scope for solving crime and preventing fraud.

Programme details: Our Changing World

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