Spectroscopy software fights vehicle crime

Car crimes will become easier to solve as the world's largest database of automotive paints standardises on Bio-Rad's KnowItAll spectroscopy software for analysis of samples from crime scenes.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) operates the International Forensic Automotive Paint Data Query (PDQ) database. This is a searchable database of chemical and colour information about automotive paints. Developed by Forensic Laboratory Services of the RCMP, the database represents 30 years of accumulated information provided by automotive companies and samples of vehicles submitted by other forensic laboratories or police. The PDQ contains information about the make, model, year, and assembly plant for many vehicles.

The PDQ is used by forensic laboratories around the world to assist with criminal investigations requiring vehicle identification.The PDQ contains information on more than 13,000 vehicles, with a library of more than 50,000 layers of paint.

An automotive paint job usually consists of four layers. These known paint samples are then available for comparison against paint samples taken from a crime scene or from suspect vehicles. The PDQ team samples each paint layer with scalpels and microscopes to determine the spectra and chemical composition of the paint chips.

Once unknown vehicles are matched in the database, police can use the possible make, model and year information to search for the vehicle involved in the criminal activity, most often a hit-and-run.International PDQ users include the United States, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, and the European Union.

Now access to the PDQ will be standardised using Bio-Rad's KnowItAll spectroscopy software which will match the infrared spectra of the distinct layers in the paint sample with the reference spectra in the PDQ database. This infrared spectral analysis can provide forensic scientists with the corroboration necessary to support their hypotheses in the courtroom.

First, an infrared spectrometer measures the sample to produce a spectrum that is expressed as a graph showing a series of peaks and valleys specific to the compound in the sample. The software then compares the spectrum with the reference database of measured spectra of known substances. If a matching spectrum is found, the material in question can be identified.

Dr Gregory Banik, general manager of informatics for the company, said: 'Bio-Rad is proud to assist  the RCMP in helping forensic scientists worldwide identify unknown automobile paint samples by combining the power of Bio-Rad's KnowItAll software with the unrivaled scope and quality of the RCMP's PDQ database.

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