Samantha Sweck is conducting lab research to detect certain organic chemicals in silicone bracelets.

The silicone bracelet on your wrist might be more than just a statement of personal style.

A study now taking place at UTC is analyzing various wristbands, rings and other items with silicone in them, trying to detect certain organic chemicals that are left behind when any form of combustion takes place, including fireworks, welding, starting a fire or firing a gun.

“As anyone who has ever shot a gun knows, you end up with residue in your nose and basically everywhere else,” says student Samantha Sweck, who is doing the lab research. “Most people will just wash their hands off and it’s done.”

But specific chemicals stick to silicone, and it’s tough to remove them, she explains.

“You would have to wash it in five different rinses with organic solvents to get them off. It’s not just something that’s going to come off with soap,” says Sweck, a double major in biochemistry and chemical engineering.

The project is a collaboration between Gretchen Potts, UC Foundation professor of chemistry and faculty advisor on the project, and Chris Dockery, assistant chair in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Kennesaw State University in Atlanta. It began last year with UTC student Elizabeth Zuy, who ran tests to see if silicone bracelets could even be used in residue studies. Yes, they could.

Potts says she has seen previous studies that tested silicone bracelets for organic chemicals encountered by roofers and thought the same might be possible with other chemicals.

The current experiments are searching for seven organic compounds. “We’re looking to be able to extract the residue from the wristbands and determine the difference in concentrations,” Sweck says.

The goal is for the information to eliminate “false positives,” Potts says. For instance, she explains, can the residue prove conclusively that someone set off firecrackers instead of welding or, yes, firing a gun?

But lawyers and law enforcement shouldn’t suddenly hope that the research can be used in cases that involve guns, warns Potts. That possibility is a long way off and may never materialize at all, she says.


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