Monitoring the chemical changes in fingermark residue over time using synchrotron infrared spectroscopy

21 December 2021, Version 1
This content is a preprint and has not undergone peer review at the time of posting.


Degradation of fingermark residue has a major impact on the successful forensic detection of latent fingermarks. The time course of degradation has been previously explored with bulk chemical analyses, but little is known about chemical alterations at the micron-scale. Here we report the use of synchrotron-sourced attenuated total reflection-Fourier transform infrared (ATR-FTIR) microscopy to provide spatio-temporal resolution of chemical changes within fingermark droplets, as a function of time since deposition. Eccrine and sebaceous material within natural fingermark droplets were imaged on the micron scales at hourly intervals for the first 6 – 12 hours after deposition, revealing that substantial dehydration occurred within the first 8 hours. Changes to lipid material was more varied, with samples exhibiting an increase or decrease in lipid concentration due to the degradation and redistribution of this material. Across 12 donors, it was noticeable that the initial chemical composition and morphology of the droplet varied greatly, which appeared to influence on the rate of change of the droplet over time. Further, this study attempted to quantify the total water content within fingermark samples. The wide-spread nature and strength of the absorption of Terahertz/Far-infrared (THz/Far-IR) radiation by water vapour molecules were exploited for this purpose, using THz/Far-IR spectroscopy. Upon heating, water confined in natural fingermarks was evaporated and expanded in a vacuum chamber equipped with multipass optics. The amount of water vapour was then quantified by high-spectral resolution analysis, and fingermarks were observed to lose approximately 14 – 20 µg of water. The combination of both ATR-FTIR and Far-IR highlight important implications for experimental design in fingermark research, and operational practices used by law enforcement agencies.


forensic science
latent fingermarks
infrared microscopy
chemical imaging
synchrotron radiation

Supplementary materials

Graphical abstract
Fingermark on a surface with water droplets with IR spectra supermimposed.


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