Characterisation of soils with the use of instrumental techniques : a multivariate forensic study

Onions, Katrina Leigh (2009) Characterisation of soils with the use of instrumental techniques : a multivariate forensic study. Masters by Research thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


The value of soil evidence in the forensic discipline is well known. However, it would be advantageous if an in-situ method was available that could record responses from tyre or shoe impressions in ground soil at the crime scene. The development of optical fibres and emerging portable NIR instruments has unveiled a potential methodology which could permit such a proposal. The NIR spectral region contains rich chemical information in the form of overtone and combination bands of the fundamental infrared absorptions and low-energy electronic transitions. This region has in the past, been perceived as being too complex for interpretation and consequently was scarcely utilized. The application of NIR in the forensic discipline is virtually non-existent creating a vacancy for research in this area. NIR spectroscopy has great potential in the forensic discipline as it is simple, nondestructive and capable of rapidly providing information relating to chemical composition. The objective of this study is to investigate the ability of NIR spectroscopy combined with Chemometrics to discriminate between individual soils. A further objective is to apply the NIR process to a simulated forensic scenario where soil transfer occurs. NIR spectra were recorded from twenty-seven soils sampled from the Logan region in South-East Queensland, Australia. A series of three high quartz soils were mixed with three different kaolinites in varying ratios and NIR spectra collected. Spectra were also collected from six soils as the temperature of the soils was ramped from room temperature up to 6000C. Finally, a forensic scenario was simulated where the transferral of ground soil to shoe soles was investigated. Chemometrics methods such as the commonly known Principal Component Analysis (PCA), the less well known fuzzy clustering (FC) and ranking by means of multicriteria decision making (MCDM) methodology were employed to interpret the spectral results. All soils were characterised using Inductively Coupled Plasma Optical Emission Spectroscopy and X-Ray Diffractometry. Results were promising revealing NIR combined with Chemometrics is capable of discriminating between the various soils. Peak assignments were established by comparing the spectra of known minerals with the spectra collected from the soil samples. The temperature dependent NIR analysis confirmed the assignments of the absorptions due to adsorbed and molecular bound water. The relative intensities of the identified NIR absorptions reflected the quantitative XRD and ICP characterisation results. PCA and FC analysis of the raw soils in the initial NIR investigation revealed that the soils were primarily distinguished on the basis of their relative quartz and kaolinte contents, and to a lesser extent on the horizon from which they originated. Furthermore, PCA could distinguish between the three kaolinites used in the study, suggesting that the NIR spectral region was sensitive enough to contain information describing variation within kaolinite itself. The forensic scenario simulation PCA successfully discriminated between the ‘Backyard Soil’ and ‘Melcann® Sand’, as well as the two sampling methods employed. Further PCA exploration revealed that it was possible to distinguish between the various shoes used in the simulation. In addition, it was possible to establish association between specific sampling sites on the shoe with the corresponding site remaining in the impression. The forensic application revealed some limitations of the process relating to moisture content and homogeneity of the soil. These limitations can both be overcome by simple sampling practices and maintaining the original integrity of the soil. The results from the forensic scenario simulation proved that the concept shows great promise in the forensic discipline.

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ID Code: 30420
Item Type: QUT Thesis (Masters by Research)
Supervisor: Kokot, Serge & Frost, Raymond
Keywords: soil, NIR, XRD, ICP, forensics, chemometrics, MCDM
Divisions: Past > QUT Faculties & Divisions > Faculty of Science and Technology
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 12 Feb 2010 05:54
Last Modified: 28 Oct 2011 19:55

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