U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Magneto-Optical Technology Shows Promise in "Unerasing" Serial Numbers

NCJ Number
Techbeat Dated: September/ October 2014 Pages: 21-24
Date Published
October 2014
5 pages
This article reports on the results of Phase I testing to determine whether magneto-optical sensor technology may be a better method of recovering obliterated firearms serial numbers than the methods currently in use.

Reports from Phase I testing indicate that the technology showed significant promise when working with certain types of standardized samples. The processing is simple and quick, and there are no chemicals to mix and no precautionary measures that are required when dealing with acids. A fume hood or protective equipment are not needed, and no mirror-like polish has to be put on the sample first. Some drawbacks were found, however, in using magneto-optical technology to recover obliterated firearms serial numbers. Although the technology worked well on ferrous metals, this was not the case with non-ferrous metals or zinc alloys. Also, the sensor must contact a planar surface directly, which is difficult for the many firearm serial numbers located on curved parts of a firearm or are otherwise obstructed. In addition, the technology's cost is prohibitive ($15,000 compared to a few hundred dollars for other methods). Despite these drawbacks to the technology, the research will continue to Phase II in an effort to adapt the promising portion of the technology to real-world use. Results from Phase II testing, which is currently being conducted, should be available in late 2014 or early 2015.

Date Published: October 1, 2014