November 13, 2016

Slice of PIE: The Future of Forensics!

Using the panel discussions of the most recent World Science Fiction Convention in Kansas City in August 2016 (to which I was invited and had a friend pay my membership! [Thanks, Paul!] but was unable to go (until I retire from education)), I will jump off, jump on, rail against, and shamelessly agree with the BRIEF DESCRIPTION given in the pdf copy of the Program Guide. This is event #2198. The link is provided below…

Panel Experts discuss what is current in the methods and technology of analyzing scientific evidence, and suggest where it might go next.

Jason Sanford: Midwesterner and writer of Science Fiction Strange, he’s won lots of awards.
Alistair Kimble (M): Special Agent with the FBI and a writer…hmmmm…maybe qualified?
Jack Campbell Jr.: Writer of Dark Fiction (so says his website title…)
Diana Rowland: Writer of demons and zombies (and though I haven’t read one, it seems that they have a twist of sarcastic humor…that’s what the covers imply to me…)
Anna Yeatts: author of short fiction all over the place!

Let me just say right here that I love forensics.

I used forensics to assess students in my special education science classes at the end of the school year. I taught several special classes at my middle school using forensics to find out who killed the school principal. I have in my possession an FBI manual describing various ways people die and how they are classified in the report every agent has to write.

Let me also say that I NEVER thought to use my love to write a science fiction story involving forensics! Weird, huh?

So – what’s NOW in forensic research and where might it go in the future?

Certainly, gel electrophoresis is a contemporary tool in forensics that’s used to separate mixtures of DNA, RNA, or proteins according to molecular size. In gel electrophoresis, the molecules to be separated are pushed by an electrical field through a gel that contains small pores. After treatment, the end result is banding in the gel.

How could that be “future-fied”? How about speeding up the process? How might that happen? Could you play around with amperage and voltage? Amps are a unit of charge, (the coulomb) that is the quantity of electricity carried in 1 second by a current of 1 ampere. Conversely, a current of one ampere is one coulomb of charge going past a given point per second; and voltage is electric potential difference, electric pressure or electric tension is the difference in electric potential energy between two points per unit electric charge. Maybe with new materials we could push that up; maybe make it in the detective’s head?

How about a “gun” that fires a cartridge full of nanobots that spread out and begin to process evidence at a scene immediately? Of course, what if a criminal gets hold of the programming? What’s to keep the nanobots from destroying or altering evidence…and (IDEA!) what if a Human detective had to work with a Gwelch detective – and the Gwelch, being a multi-organism, communal creature whose individual members look like cockroaches; work like millimeter-bots, sampling a site by eating things on it and processing, then passing on findings to the greater organism? This would work for trace evidence analysis, evaluation of body fluids, and compound determination, such as drugs or other hazardous chemicals.

In something called fluorescence spectroscopy, forensic technicians can determine the amount of light emitted after absorption to give information on the components of the sample. Recent developments allow for fluorescent nanosensors that allow the measurement of oxygen in biological fluids such as blood, interstitial fluid, and cerebral spinal fluid. How this could be USED, I have no idea!

However, I CAN imagine something that appears an accident in the power unit of a ship, station, or colony and these futuristic detectives using an inductively coupled plasma/mass spectrometry (ICP/MS). “Under the best conditions, ICP/MS detects elements down to the parts-per-quadrillion level.”

I’d have loved to be at this session, but you’ll have to excuse me, I had a “tiny idea” written down somewhere that’s just exploded into my head as a workable idea for a story!

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