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Forensic Science in 3D

p3-1-footprint3D printers could soon be a crime-solving tool, creating accurate models of footprints—and the shoes that made those prints.

Reports that 3D printers can make working guns and bullets have law enforcement officials worried. But 3D printing is also being used to fight crime in UAB’s Center for Information Assurance/Joint Forensics Research (CIA|JFR). Forensic researcher Jason Linville, Ph.D., a member of CIA|JFR and the UAB Department of Justice Sciences, recently worked with the 3D Print Lab to produce an impression of a footprint (above).

Footprint models are currently created using crime-scene photographs and plaster of Paris casting. But developing a system that can scan footprints in 3D has several advantages, Linville notes. “Once you have footprints as digital images, you can easily compare them with one another to generate a more objective match than you could by relying on the judgment of a human analyst,” he says. “Then because you can print an impression that doesn’t require handling, like a plaster cast, you can create multiple copies that are exactly the same.”

Another “huge advantage” with Dr. Sloan’s lab “is the ability to reverse the impression and actually print out what you think the shoe looked like,” Linville says. “That is physical evidence that you could take to court.”

Next: 3D printing heads for the stars

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