RICHMOND, Ky. (WKYT) - You've probably seen one used on dramas like CBS's own NCIS and even CSI, but did you realize the mass spectrometer they're referring to is an actual instrument Kentucky students are working with?
The mass spectrometer is a fairly new device in the forensics world. Very few science labs have one, but Eastern Kentucky University does.
Scientists use it all the time to help solve crimes on TV dramas, but the "mass spec" isn't just a laboratory prop. It's real-life technology being put to use in real situations.
"It is relatively new, it's not even been on the market for ten years. We're still determining what possibilities there are," explains Eastern Kentucky University Associate Professor Darrin Smith. Smith is finding new ways to use the emerging technology.
He can use the data analysis machine to test surfaces for substances, like drugs.
"We can do a direct screening of drugs where we can do extractions and then we can do really simple tests with multiple types of instrumentation, and then once we get a positive result with a screening then we can go back and do more quantitative confirmation analysis to determine yes, the drug was there, but then also how much?"
Smith's students are finding new ways to use the technology each day.
"We're doing trace evidence of fingernail polish directly from surfaces. So if there was a crime scene and someone had fingernail polish and you needed to make a connection to some other sight, well if you analyze that fingernail polish directly from a surface, can you compare it and know what it was from another source?"