This research project examined the effects of crime scene contaminants on surface-enhanced Raman analysis of hair.
Forensic analysis of hair is important, as hair is one of the most commonly examined forms of trace evidence found at crime scenes. A growing body of evidence suggests that surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy (SERS), a label-free and non-destructive analytical technique, can be used to detect and identify artificial colorants present on hair. However, hair collected at crime scenes is often contaminated by substances of biological and non-biological origin present at such locations. In this study, the authors investigate the extent to which contaminants, saliva, blood, dirt, and bleach can alter the accuracy of SERS-based detection and identification of both permanent and semi-permanent colorants present on hair. The findings show that saliva and dirt reduce the intensity of the colorants' signals but do not obscure their detection and identification. At the same time, an exposure of the colored hair to bleach or the presence of blood eliminates SERS-based analysis of artificial dyes present on such samples. The project identified the procedure that can be used to remove blood contamination, which, in turn, enables identification of the hair colorants on such pre-cleaned samples; however, bleach treatment irreversibly eliminates SERS-based detection of artificial colorants on hair. These findings expand our understandings about the potential of SERS in forensic investigation of colorants on trace hair evidence. (Publisher abstract provided)