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HTX-Factor: Uncovering the Facts in the Aftermath of an Explosion - In the Lab

What clues can the evidence that has been collected from the scene of an explosion offer? HTX Forensic Scientist Jason Ang tells us how S&T can unravel the mysteries of what happened at Ground Zero.
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GRAPHIC: Home Team News

Whether it’s at the frontline or in the lab, it takes teamwork and a specialised set of S&T skills to find out how an explosion occurred and who the culprits might be. 

After the Bomb Technical Team of the Home Team Science and Technology Agency (HTX) has completed its vital work at the site of an explosion, it’s time for Forensic Scientist Jason Ang, also with HTX’s Forensics Centre of Expertise, to take over the next part of the investigations.

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PHOTO: Joash Tan

A DNA analysis specialist, Jason joined the Home Team in 2013 and completed a stint at Woodlands Checkpoint conducting environmental surveillance in passenger halls. This screening ensures that biological agents can be detected before they enter Singapore.  

Seeking Insights and Clues 
Jason is now based at HTX’s Home Team Investigation Laboratory at Police Cantonment Complex. “It’s here that evidence that has been meticulously collected from the scene of an explosion is further processed,” he explained. 

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PHOTO: Joash Tan

Compared to his previous screening duties at Woodlands Checkpoint, Jason's current work has a different order of complexity. “When we screen for biological agents at our checkpoints, we analyse DNA as part of our process,” he explained. “But since our goal in post-blast investigations is to identify specific individuals, not only do we need to analyse for and detect human DNA, we also have to profile it. This process is more complex and requires greater effort on our part.”

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PHOTOS: Rytasha Passion Raj

Jason and his fellow scientists start by placing the evidence specimens into a machine that automates the preparation of samples. These samples are then transferred to another machine for DNA sequencing. “This process reads the DNA sequences in a sample,” explained Jason, “which we can then use to generate a DNA profile and identify persons of interest.” 

Advanced Forensic Capabilities
To hone his skills in post-blast investigations, Jason participates in events such as Exercise Solar Wind, a biennial exercise between the Singapore Police Force and the Royal Brunei Police Force. “This offers us a rare opportunity to simulate a realistic blast scene,” said Jason, “and we use the exercise to test various methods and technologies to recover DNA.”

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But post-blast investigations are just one aspect of Jason’s duties; his work also involves researching and developing technology related to human identification. “We focus on research that enhances the effectiveness of identifying a person,” he explained. “For example, newer methods of sequencing DNA like Massive Parallel Sequencing allow us to obtain more detailed information from our samples.”

While technology has made it easier to analyse even small samples of DNA, it also means that officers must collect and handle evidence with even greater care and precision. That’s why part of Jason’s work involves educating officers on the ground about optimal methods of collecting evidence. “If the evidence that has been collected is degraded or has barely any DNA, then the analysis results may not be useful at all,” he explained.

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PHOTO: Joash Tan

Research and development remain one of Jason’s passions. “Research work is like puzzle-solving,” he shared. “At first, we may have very few clues about how an incident happened. But as we begin our analysis, we start seeing the pieces come together, and pick up the pace more and more. That’s the part that’s the most meaningful and fun!”

Written by

Joash Tan


16 July 2021

Science and Technology
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