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Inside Iowa State, a newspaper for faculty and staff, is published by the Office of University Relations.

September 10, 2004

Research briefs

Crime fighters

Investigators frequently match the markings found at crime scenes with tools (such as screwdrivers, pliers and wire cutters) believed to have been used to commit crimes. But a 2000 landmark Florida case, in which the court ruled that there was not enough scientific evidence to validate the theory that each tool's marking were unique, has made such identifications vulnerable to similar challenges.

Now, that may change. Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Ames Laboratory have built a database of 13,000 toolmark images and developed an analgorithm to analyze the images statistically.

Ames Lab scientists Stan Bajic and David Baldwin headed the database project. Max Morris, statistics professor, and Zhigang Zhou, statistics graduate student, developed the software to analyze the image data. The resulting software has been "very encouraging," Morris said

"In the vast majority of cases, the algorithm correctly identifies images taken from different surfaces as non-matches. It also correctly identifies most pairs of images taken from a common surface as matches," Morris noted.

Morris calls the results "an important first step" in the effort to develop ways to determine the uniqueness of toolmarks.

Farmers look to the 'Net

For decades, farmers have listened to the radio every day at noon to get the latest grain and livestock prices, and checked the weather on the radio or late night television news.

Today, they're also checking the Internet, according to an in-depth study by Eric Abbott, professor in the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication. Abbott has looked at Internet adoption and use by Iowa farm families.

In 2001, Abbott surveyed 226 farm households that owned computers about their use of the Internet for both farm and non-farm uses. The results showed heavy Internet use by multiple farm household members, especially for information-seeking and e-mail activities. Almost 80 percent of the households use the Internet.

Smaller-scale farmers tend to use the Internet less for farming, and more for off-farm jobs or education, the study shows.


Iowa State scientists and statisticians have developed a way to help identify markings found at crime scenes with tools, such as screwdrivers, believed to have been used to commit crimes.