UCF professor uses laser technology to study bones, help families of unidentified victims

Matthieu Baudelet hopes to bring closure to families by speeding up forensics process

ORLANDO, Fla. – A University of Central Florida chemistry professor is using laser-based technology to help the families of victims whose remains have yet to be identified.

“This is a handheld laser-induced spectroscopy instrument, otherwise known as a handheld LIB,” UCF doctoral student Kristen Livingston said.

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Livingston said there are two versions of the laser-induced spectroscopy—a hand-held version, used for fieldwork, and a larger stationary unit, used for lab work.

Livingston and her professor, Matthieu Baudelet, hope they can get results by distinguishing bones and other remains using this new tech. The idea behind it is that someone’s metabolism or their environment causes a unique signature within the remans that make them identifiable.

During a demonstration, Livingston said the instrument works by focusing a laser on the surface of a bone or remain.

The laser then helps break down the sample which then converts data to a spectrum highlighting its composition in elements and atoms.

“So if you just have bones and you cannot do much DNA, that would be something like large mass graves and everything is mixed up, we can help,” Baudelet said.

He said he’s been working on this project for years, adding he wanted to do something to help the forensics field.

The project ramped up after this past January when the project was approved for a grant by the National Institute of Justice.

Baudelet said the goal is not to identify a person through their bones, but to help forensic scientists or archeologists sort through remains faster.

“Unfortunately, events like 9/11 can happen anytime and there is like those very big events where you would have remains, but you can’t identify... this is what we try to do—speed up the process, help people (find) closure,” Baudelet said.

Livingston said so far the project has been a success.

“This is all one big study, but the first step was taking spectrum from 12 donors and I analyzed that and then I just came back from North Carolina on a data collection trip where I have now collected 18 more, so 30 total, so now we are going to be looking at (to see) if we can classify bones from 30 different individuals correctly. So with the 12 so far that we looked at, we have been successful and able to classify them using the chemical spectrum.”

Going forward, Baudelet said the next step is to study real-life cases. They also now want to expand their research to see if it can help with cremated remains as well.

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About the Author:

Brian Didlake joined the News 6 team as a reporter in March 2021.