Published On: Thu, Mar 8th, 2018


Researchers at Idaho State University have developed new technology to help fight crime. And believe or not, complex mathematical formulas are the key.

Researchers at ISU have been hard at work for around five years developing a way to retrieve serial numbers that were etched away from stolen property.

“We’re doing that by thermal imaging, and then we’re doing a multi-varied data analysis to bring out that image. Because, by the regular camera, you can’t see it, and by the human eye, you can’t see the defaced serial numbers either,” said John Kalivas, the Co-Principal Investigator of the project.

 Here’s how it works: The scientists shoot laser beams through mirrors and lenses to shine it on the sample. Meanwhile, infrared cameras are taking photos. Then, the data is collected and analyzed so the researchers can see the scratched away image.

The researchers think this process is better than the method used now, called chemical etching, which involves pouring acid on a metal to try and bring out the serial number.

“And the numbers will come up sometimes, but sometimes in pieces, and then the other thing about it is, you can’t go back and try it again,” said Rene Rodriguez, the Chemistry Department Chair.

Ikwulono Unobe, a Graduate Student helping with the research, said, “The most exciting part of it for me, essentially, was being able to go from that place where it might, or it might not work, to, it’s actually working, we are doing something new.”

The project just got a two year grant extension of about $200,000 from the National Institute of Justice, meaning they’ll be free to push the limits of science even further.

The next step will be developing a way to read not just numbers, but letters and special characters. They’ll also be working with Utah and Idaho police to compare their method to the regular chemical etching method.

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