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Get it in ink: Ames Lab and MFRC assist Homeland Security in forensic science

Cutting-edge scientific analysis at the U. S. Department of Energy is not only speeding technological innovation, it’s helping keep the nation safe. Here at the Ames Laboratory, it means bringing our international reputation for advanced tools and techniques in materials characterization to the forensic field of questioned documents investigation.

Biorenewable Thermoplastic Elastomers

Our research group has recently discovered how to polymerize triglycerides such as soybean oil along with common monomeric feedstocks such as styrene to form what is known as a “thermoplastic elastomer” (TPE). A TPE is a general category of plastics that range from soft and sticky (one use is in PostIt Notes) to soft elastic materials (used in the soles of shoes) to hard pliable rubbers (used in tires and roads). The vast majority of TPEs are derived from combinations of styrene and butadiene; butadiene is a energy intensive byproduct of ethylene cracking from crude oil.

A Microfluidic Microbial Fuel Cell as a Biochemical Oxygen Demand Sensor

Bioelectrochemical systems (BES) have recently emerged as a central technology in an attempt to produce electricity. In a BES, bacteria interact with electrodes using electrons, which are either removed or supplied through an electrical circuit. The most recognized type of BES is microbial fuel cells (MFCs), in which useful power is generated from electron donors as, for example, present in wastewater.

Rare-earth Permanent Magnets

Permanent magnetic materials find wide applications in energy generation. The materials providing best performances (e.g., high energy product), such as NdFeB, contains a large weight percentage of rare earth metals. As rare earth materials are critical materials and is projected to face a shortage in supply, DOE has invested considerable resources to find substitute materials for the rare earth based permanent magnetic materials in a recent APRPA-E REACT call.

Capturing 3D Footwear and Impression Marks

Capturing 3D Footwear and Impression Marks near scene of a crime could play an essential role for biometrics survey or crime investigation. Existing laser scanning methods are good at capturing long-range and large areas (e.g. full room, or whole crime scene); and microscopy technology may serve the purpose of capturing micro-scale structures with a few millimeters range. However, there is a lack of affordable technologies that can capture crime scenes in the middle-range (few millimeters to a meter) that could achieve at least 300 dpi (dots per inch) in 3D.


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