Groundbreaking technique reveals fingerprints in stunning 3D detail

When you use your fingerprint to unlock your smartphone, your phone is looking at a two-dimensional pattern to determine whether it’s the correct fingerprint before it unlocks for you. But the imprint your finger leaves on the surface of the button is actually a 3D structure called a fingermark. Fingermarks are made up of tiny ridges of oil from your skin. Each ridge is only a few microns tall, or a few hundredths of the thickness of human hair. Biometric identifiers record fingermarks only as 2D pictures, and although these carry a lot of information, there’s a lot missing. A 2D fingerprint neglects the depth of the fingermark, including pores and scars buried in the ridges of fingers that are difficult to see. I’m an educator and scientist who studies holography, a field of research that focuses on how to display 3D information. My lab has created a way to map and visualize fingermarks in three dimensions from any perspective on a computer – using digital holography. Fingermark types Scientists categorize fingermarks as either patent, plastic or latent, depending on how visible they are when left on a surface. Patent fingermarks are the most visible type – bloody fingerprints at crime scenes are one example. Plastic fingermarks are found on soft surfaces, such as clay, Play-Doh or chocolate bars. The human eye can see both patent and plastic fingermarks quite easily. The least visible are latent fingermarks. These are usually found on hard surfaces such as glass, metals, woods and plastics. To make them out,…Groundbreaking technique reveals fingerprints in stunning 3D detail

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