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Going Viral

Chemist’s Work Attracts International Attention

Jan Halámek’s research to identify crime scene suspects have gone viral. (Photo by Paul Miller)

ALBANY, N.Y. (September 9, 2016) – Jan Halámek is helping investigators catch criminals and earning national media attention while doing so.

Halámek, an assistant chemistry professor at UAlbany, has been featured in hundreds of publications across the globe for his ongoing forensic research. He’s able to identify key characteristics of a culprit – including age range and sex – based only on fingerprints or blood residue left at a crime scene.

Headlines include:

“I never expected such a great reaction to my research. It shocked me,” Halámek said. “My team and I were really pleased with the response and have used it as great motivation for our ongoing and future research. I really hope that everything we have done in the past year, and what we continue to work on, increases students’ appreciation of science and also encourages them to join STEM fields.”

Halámek’s media attention is well deserved, considering investigators can wait weeks or even months for DNA test results on crime scene evidence. They also need to find a match in existing criminal databases.

Both of Halámek’s tests involve the use of biomarkers. He analyzes alkaline phosphatase (ALP) levels, found in all body tissues, to tell if the originator of a blood spot is young (under 18) or older, along with the amount of time the blood has been at the scene. Halámek can also tell if a culprit is male or female based on amino acid content left behind in fingerprints.

“It’s all about the biomarkers, looking for the attributes of a person,” said Halámek in an interview with Forensic Magazine. “It’s pure chemistry.”

Halamek's team and Averill Park students
Halámek (left) and Ph.D. student Juliana Agudelo (one from right) are working with Averill Park high school students on both tests. (Photo by Gregory Panzanaro)

His tests are user-friendly. Averill Park high school students have successfully tried both. There’s also students at UAlbany helping develop the research. Included is Ph.D. chemistry students Erica Brunelle, Juliana Agudelo, Crystal Huynh and Leif McGoldrick, along with a number of chemistry and biology undergraduates.

The team is now testing additional identification methods.

“We would like to see our research packaged as a potential forensic kit and utilized by all law enforcement,” Halámek said. “If these tests are made portable, they can be rapidly analyzed at the crime scene by individuals who have minimal scientific training.”

Beyond the media coverage, Halámek has released findings in Analytical Chemistry and was featured on UAlbany’s website. You can learn more by visiting his research group website and expert page.

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