On TV shows like CSI, forensic scientists identify crooks by the evidence they leave behind, and the best kind of evidence is fingerprints. But Tsutomu Matsumoto of the University of Yokohama in Japan has discovered that fake fingers made out of jello can leave prints that fool the experts.

His team created artificial fingers out of gelatin and used them with security systems that rely on a fingerprint for ID. They also used the jello fingers to leave fake fingerprints on a glass. This means a burglar could not only wipe off his own prints, he could leave fake ones around to fool the cops. He could even use the prints of one of his worst enemies to send the police down a false trail.

In their first experiments, Matsumoto?s team poured gelatin into a soft plastic mold to create fingers with prints on them. Next, they figured out how to lift real fingerprints from a drinking glass and paste them on the ends of the fake jello fingers, so they could leave the prints wherever they wanted. These prints fooled fingerprint experts 80% of the time.

Real prints from a glass were hardened with a glue stick that lifted sweat and skin cells from the surface. The print was then photographed with a digital camera and enhanced with Adobe Photoshop software to emphasize the difference between the ridges and gaps. The image was then transferred to a photosensitive sheet, etched into copper to turn it from a flat image into a three-dimensional print, and then used to create a mold. A burglar could stick the mold in his pocket and leave fake prints at every house he robbed.

“Impressive is an understatement,” said Security expert Bruce Schneier when he saw the demonstration. “If he (Matsumoto) could do this, then any semi-professional can almost certainly do much, much more.”

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