As advancements in 3D printing give humans prosthetic limbs, ears, or other functioning human organs, soon it might be the technology to rely on when it comes to crime scene investigation. Criminals beware, as traces of DNA can help authorities discover your identity. This will not only come in the form of analysis that only scientists can read, but a printout of one's face that can undeniably put one in the scene of the crime.
A strand of hair, a cigarette butt, a chewing gum, or a small piece of skin can now help identify perpetrators of rape, murder, or other heinous crimes that are often tagged as open and unsolved for years. Discarded DNA can put a face to gruesome cases, help authorities serve justice, and help families seek closure.
Heather Dewey-Hagborg, an artist from New York and proponent of a project called Stranger Visions is very close to this reality. She collects materials with possible DNA traces and 3D-prints faces based on the gender, color of the eyes, and maternal ethnicity the recovered DNA reveals.
"In Stranger Visions artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg creates portrait sculptures from analyses of genetic material collected in public places. Working with the traces strangers unwittingly leave behind, Dewey-Hagborg calls attention to the impulse toward genetic determinism and the potential for a culture of genetic surveillance," Stranger Vision said on its website.
Using a code and a 3D printer, Dewey-Hagborg has created 3D model faces of the people who have left traces of their DNA in materials she have recovered in different places.
"The way that I'm using code here is a lot like how a sketch artist would use a pencil. The faces have a general likeness. It might look like a family resemblance. Right now I can't determine age so all of my masks are aged between 20 and 40," Dewey-Hagborg said.
However, the artist knows that what she does now is very limited especially when subjectivity of the artist enters the equation.
"There's an 80% chance that this person has brown eyes and 20% chance that they have green eyes. You have to make that call," she explained in an interview. "It does involve, essentially, creating a stereotype, and generating faces based on those stereotyped ideas, so that's something I'm hoping to question with this work."
The artist shared her plans of improving the existing code to include more identifying traits to produce more accurate 3D-printed faces. While it might not still be ready for use by forensics experts, 3D printing has a lot of promise from turning a single strand of hair into a face that can be compared to existing databases or broadcast through mainstream media, making the launch of a manhunt a lot easier.