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Oklahoma State University

OSU researcher awarded third grant to advance criminal investigations

Thu, October 30, 2014

Oklahoma State University chemistry professor Dr. Barry K. Lavine has been awarded his third grant in four years for ongoing research into the analysis of automobile paint samples to improve how forensic scientists track down vehicles in criminal investigations. The $443,000 grant brings Lavine’s total award from the National Institute of Justice to more than $1.2 million since 2010. 

Dr. Barry J. Lavine stands in his chemistry laboratory with an infrared spectrometer, the newest piece of equipment made possible by a National Institute of Justice grant. Lavine is also using his award to buy an infrared microscope, the standard instrument used in crime laboratories to analyze automotive paint samples.

This phase of Lavine’s research will involve the use of infrared (IR) spectral data obtained from analyzing automotive paint samples to more quickly and accurately narrow the range of suspect vehicles. The project is designed to speed up analysis using a FTIR imaging microscope that will allow forensic investigators to analyze multiple layers of a paint sample simultaneously rather than individually, which is the current standard.

“One way to minimize the time necessary for data collection is to work with all paint layers in a single analysis,” Lavine said. “This involves scanning the cross sectioned layers of a sample, which can be performed in less than a minute.”

The processed data is compared to a paint sample library using search algorithms developed by Lavine as part of a previous NIJ grant. Lavine said it’s often possible to narrow the search for a suspect vehicle to a specific assembly plant where it was painted.

“Today a forensic scientist working in the FBI lab, or a lab in a large city, usually has many cases and there may be only one person,” Lavine said. “So they need something that is fast and accurate.”

According to Lavine, his research for NIJ will likely continue with a possible fourth project to investigate alternative imaging methods over the current infrared standard, as well as the development of a field deployable analysis system. Results from his work may also be applied to future research into biological and chemical systems.