UCF student innovation changing police work
ORLANDO, Fla. — An innovation by a University of Central Florida student is helping law enforcement’s war on drugs.
Identifying illegal drugs rapidly, accurately and safely in the field is a challenge for law enforcement and forensic analysts, and often false positives come up with the technology available to them.
A University of Central Florida graduate student may be ready to give investigators the tool they need through a hand-held device he is developing. David Nash, a Ph.D. student in chemistry just landed the university’s first National Institute of Justice Graduate Research Fellowship in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics award of $50,000 to continue work on a prototype.
The NIJ is the research-funding branch of the Department of Justice. Annually, it provides a monetary award to a handful of graduate students to conduct research in the social or physical science fields that will help the criminal justice, law enforcement, or forensic communities.
Nash and his advisor, physics professor Richard Blair, developed the tool, which uses chemically coated strips and a palm-sized spectrometer device equipped with an ultraviolet light to test substances.
With the help of UCF’s I-Corps program, which pairs selected UCF students and faculty teams with industry mentors and funding to develop new technologies, Nash and Blair have formed a company – called IDem – to manufacture the devices and take them to market.
Nash said the test is far more accurate and safer than chemical spot tests, which can destroy the evidence and require field officers to use potentially hazardous reagents. Existing tests have not only resulted in burns for the users, they have been known to mistakenly identify harmless substances such as sugar, soap and tea leaves as contraband.
The new method may also reduce the backlog in crime labs where seized substances can sometimes sit for months awaiting confirmation testing while the owners remain falsely imprisoned, Nash said.
Image of David Nash provided by UCF