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Researchers Develop Computer Program For Solving Arson Cases Quickly

Update Date: Apr 25, 2014 11:21 AM EDT

Researchers have developed a computer program that would speed up the process of sifting through the chemical clues left behind by arson. 

The developed software can cut the need for extra levels of human analysis reducing the waiting time to find out the cause of a deliberately set fire. 

"Having results back in a timely way on physical evidence can only improve an investigation," said Mark Sandercock, manager of trace evidence program support for the RCMP's National Forensic Laboratory Services, and a co-author on the research, in the press release . "By getting the laboratory results back quickly, investigators can use this information to ask the right questions when interviewing people or evaluating other evidence, which will help them resolve the case more quickly by pointing them in the right direction."

The study is the first to use a mathematical model to successfully classify debris pulled from suspected arson scenes.

"Arson debris provides an interesting set of samples because it is uncontrolled,"said developer of the programUniversity of Alberta chemistry professor James Harynuk, in the press release. "You never know what is going to be in the fire, or how it started. Paint thinners, gasoline, kerosene are all very complex mixtures, and we wanted to develop a tool that would be able to pick a complex signature out of an equally complex background."

The technology developed at the University of Alberta would allow the first scientist to run findings through the computer program, getting an answer in seconds. Only if the computer gave a result different from that of the scientist would the debris sample go to a second human analyst, read the press release.

"It's a system that is quite accurate and goes down a similar investigative path that a human would when looking at the data," Harynuk added.

The study was recently published in the Forensic Science International.

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