The test was developed by Queen’s University professor Diane Beauchemin and student Lily Huang and early sample testing produced a 100 per cent success rate.
“Last year, Lily wanted to research hair analysis, so I started working in that area,” said Beauchemin.
Blood samples are often used to identify gender and ethnicity, but blood can deteriorate quickly and can easily be contaminated.
Hair, on the other hand, is very stable. Elements in hair originate from sweat secretions that alter with diet, ethnicity, gender, the environment and working conditions.
Beauchemin’s process takes 85 seconds to complete and involves grinding of the hair, burning it and then analysing the vapour that is produced.
“Our analysis process is very robust and can be used universally. One of our samples even included dyed hair and the test was 100 per cent accurate. The test was able to distinguish East Asians, Caucasians and South Asians,” said Huang.
Beauchemin said she has contacted law enforcement agencies about using the new technology.
She is also planning to collect more hair samples and continue her research with a goal of pinpointing where exactly in the world the hair sample is from, to look for more ethnicities and determine specific age.
The research was published in the journal Chemistry World.