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Student Showcases Research on “Does the Increased Rate of Handwashing Due to COVID-19 hinder the Ability to Develop Fingerprints”

Sloan Healy at the research showcase

Recent graduate Sloan Healy ‘22 is a Forensic Chemistry major with a Mathematics minor who presented her research, “Does the Increased Rate of Handwashing Due to COVID-19 hinder the Ability to Develop Fingerprints,” at the Undergraduate Research Showcase in April.

Healy’s research focused on how our tendencies have changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, specifically in the field of forensics.

I knew that everyone was washing their hands and using hand sanitizer like crazy, and every time you wash your hands the natural oils are stripped from your skin. These oils are what react in the different methods of fingerprint development, and that reaction is what leaves us a visible fingerprint.” Knowing this, Healy gained an interest in seeing the change in fingerprint development over time compared to two widely used methods of collection­­–dusting and super glue fuming.

According to Healy, dusting is a more hands-on development method where you apply the powder to a brush and then swirl the brush over the area of possible fingerprints. Items with fingerprints are placed into a chamber with water and super glue in a tin dish on two separate hot plates. The water vapor mixed with the super glue is what creates the reaction and the appearance of the prints.

In Healy’s Introduction to Chemical Research course, she originally proposed a chemical education project she was interested in. However, some complications arose with the pandemic that made Healy’s original topic difficult to research, so Dr. Kerry Opel proposed this research idea to her instead.

Next year a student will be continuing this project and merging it with another similar research project,” says Healy.

As it relates to her career path, Healy believes that her research has been advantageous. “It helped me gain an understanding of research in forensics and also in forensic techniques. I also had the idea that my research could be used to make adjustments to methods, and that can be carried into the classroom.”

Regarding her research, Healy mentioned that she was surprised that the super glue method did not yield better results. She did not expect the gap between the two methods to be so small.

“Dusting has a lot more potential for human error, which is why I expected super glue to yield better results. My hypothesis was correct, but I almost imagined dusting would plateau at a certain time interval,” says Healy.

Although she faced some challenges, Healy says, “The whole concept about research is the learning you get out of investigating a topic and then constantly adjusting and adapting to challenges.”

She was also able to juggle her involvement with the College’s Field Hockey team and her internship at MRG Laboratories while completing her research.

Healy is looking forward to giving advice to the next student who will continue her research. In the future, she would like to attend graduate school. For now, she is planning to work in lubrication chemistry at MRG Laboratories.