Forensic Burn Study to Use Exploding Cocktails to Test Arson Formula

Release Date: 
Jul 17 2012

UPDATE: View coverage from the event:

IUPUI students use exploding cocktails:

(INDIANAPOLIS) Graduate students in the School of Science at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) will use exploding Molotov cocktails on Wednesday to test a patent-pending formula that could revolutionize arson investigations.

The students, under the direction of Dr. John Goodpaster, assistant professor of chemistry and director of the Forensic and Investigative Sciences Program at IUPUI, will test soil samples in the area where three accelerant-fueled explosions are held. The three cocktails will use gasoline, torch fuel and diesel fuel.

The formula being tested is designed to preserve accelerants before they are allowed to degrade after a fire. If successful, the formula could one day help arson investigators identify the cause of fires even if many weeks have passed since the samples are collected.

“The problem that faces a lot of crime labs is that fire debris samples may need to be stored for some time before they are tested,” said Goodpaster. “Any ignitable liquids that are present can then become degraded by bacteria. This formula kills the microbes that otherwise would eat away at that evidence.”

Goodpaster said they also will test a specially developed paint can lid where vapors from the soil samples will be collected and preserved.

Beginning at 8:45 a.m. on Wednesday (July 18), the students will toss three Molotov cocktails in succession before collecting soil samples. Firefighters from the Indianapolis Fire Department will coordinate safety of the explosions at the IFD Training Facility at 10th Street and Post Road.

Capt. Rita Harris, IFD public information officer, will coordinate on-site media coverage. Media are asked to enter the facility off of 10th Street and park in the rear for the burn study. A photo of the site is attached.

All the students participating in the burn study are graduate students in forensic chemistry in the School of Science at IUPUI.

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