Scanner for paintings turns out to be promising new CSI tool

News - 13 November 2017 - Communication

In a special collaboration the TU Delft, the Rijksmuseum, the UvA en the NFI have introduced a new method for detecting ‘hard to find’ and concealed forensic traces. This work was officially published today in Nature’s open access journal Scientific Reports and is based on MA-XRF (i.e. scanning macro x-ray fluorescence spectroscopy) a technique originally developed for the elemental imaging of paintings and other works of art. 


In art science MA-XRF is known for revealing hidden paint layers and this exciting feature has assisted in art authentication and has enabled studies into the creative process of the artist. In the current study the potential of MA-XRF in forensic science has been demonstrated for the first time. Elemental signatures of biological traces (such as blood, sperm, urine and sweat) and complex gunshot residue patterns allow the detection and imaging of such traces on clothing items that are too dark or too fluorescent for traditional techniques.

Bullet impact

The method is fully compatible with forensic DNA profiling. Additionally, the new method offers interesting opportunities for aged traces, mixed stains, traces of poor quality and traces that have been accidentally or intentionally concealed. MA-XRF based lead imaging for example enabled the detection of a bullet impact in a wall even if multiple layers of paint are applied to conceal the evidence. 

Interesting detail: first author of the publication is a student of the Forensic Science Master program of the University of Amsterdam who as part of an internship at the gunshot residue team at NFI and in collaboration with the teams of crime scene investigation and biological traces conducted most of the practical work. 

More information
Article: 'Large imaging of forensic evidence with MA-XRF'

Contact TU Delft Joris Dik.  

Science Information Officer TU Delft Roy Meijer,, +31 (0)15 278 1750.

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