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Washington State University Applied Sciences Laboratory

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An Extra Sense for Fire Investigators

Scientists from Washington State University will begin testing new sensors they hope to imbed in paint to provide more accurate information in fire and arson investigations.

Hergen Eilers, senior scientist and associate director of the WSU Institute of Shock Physics applied sciences laboratory, was recently awarded a $517,243 grant from the Office of Justice Programs’ National Institute of Justice. More than $29 million in research was awarded to more than 60 individuals “who proposed work designed to strengthen forensic science and advance criminal justice policy and practice,” according to a press release from the Department of Justice.

Eilers said the grant will begin January and is expected to continue funding for research and testing throughout the next 2 1/2 years.

Six years ago a report was released that was highly critical of forensic evidence, expert conclusions and courts accepting questionable evidence, specifically when it came to fire investigations, Eilers said. Eilers said there are guidelines fire investigators use to determine how or where a fire originated, but they can be flawed. He said in one test, 53 investigators tried to determine the origin of a fire but only 10 percent did so correctly, Eilers said.

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