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No Such Thing As The Perfect Crime

Professor of Chemistry Igor Lednev and PhD Student Ewelina Mistek. Photo by Mark Schmidt 

ALBANY, N.Y. (November 14, 2017) — Chemistry PhD student Ewelina Mistek is making it harder and harder for criminals who dare to leave behind any trace of themselves or their victims.

Mistek's work in the Lednev Research Laboratory is using spectroscopy — the study of the interaction between matter and electromagnetic radiation — to break ground in criminal forensics by exploring new ways for investigators to solve crimes through the characterization of even the smallest amount of blood. National organizations, and even the New York State Police, are taking notice.

A major challenge investigators encounter analyzing crime scenes is that most techniques used to analyze bodily fluid destroy the sample, essentially rendering it useless once the initial analysis has been done. If more questions about the sample remain, it’s often too late. Worse yet, the current methods are often time-consuming. To mitigate this, Mistek, a native of Poland, has been conducting research on ways to quickly analyze a sample without destroying it.

Employing vibrational spectroscopy, a branch of molecular spectroscopy, she sees a sample's unique biochemical signature. Using a method called attenuated total reflection Fourier transform-infrared (ATR FT-IR) spectroscopy, combined with statistical analysis, Mistek is able to quickly differentiate between human, cat, and dog blood. This research is particularly helpful to police investigating hit-and-run accidents, and it’s anticipated that police will eventually be able to use a device the size of a cell phone to determine the species of blood at a hit-and run-scene.

Mistek’s mentor, Professor Igor Lednev, and his team work closely with the New York State Police Crime Lab System Director Ray Wickenheiser to navigate the University’s research towards the most important problems in practical forensics.

Mistek also uses Raman spectroscopy and statistical analysis to differentiate between Caucasian and African American blood, aiding investigators in narrowing down suspects and identifying potential victims. It took Mistek less than a year to complete this project and publish a cover-featured paper in Analytical Chemistry — the top journal in the field worldwide. Lednev noted Mistek's work, "combined with her dedication," secured her the prestigious Coblentz Society Student Award at the National Meeting of the Society for Applied Spectroscopy last month in Reno, Nevada.

“I’ve been interested in forensic sciences from a young age, and it was an easy decision for me to pursue the graduate program at UAlbany," said Mistek. "It allowed me to continue working in the Lednev Laboratory on the fascinating subject of body fluid analysis for forensic purposes. It’s very exciting for me to see how these techniques show potential for being applied towards real crime scene investigations in the near future.”

“From the beginning of her undergraduate internship in my laboratory, which is partially supported by the National Institute of Justice, Ewelina demonstrated the ability to learn fast new techniques and methods,” said Lednev. “She worked very hard to quickly reach a level where she was able to work on individual projects to apply advanced spectroscopic techniques and statistical data analysis for the development of new forensic methods.

“Ewelina’s success is a testimony that the University at Albany offers an excellent environment for undergraduate research, which complements students class studies and allows for successful early career development and recognition at the highest national level.”

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