Gold thieves will find it harder to get away with their crime, thanks to a sophisticated new analytical facility launched at the Department of Minerals and Energy today, by Mines Minister Gordon Hill.
Mr Hill said the new $800,000 `laser ablation inductively coupled, plasma mass spectrometer' - or 'laser-MS', and x-ray diffractometer facilities at the Chemistry Centre (WA), were state of the art technologies with many diverse potential applications.
He said one very significant application for the laser-MS was its use in 'gold fingerprinting'.
"Studies conducted by the Chemistry Centre's mineral science laboratory indicate that each gold deposit, and possibly each mine, has its own unique profile of trace elements," Mr Hill said.
"The equipment identifies the trace element profile of a gold sample which is then compared to a database of gold profiles from WA mines.
"The Chemistry Centre is the only centre in the world applying this technology to help police identify the source of stolen gold.
"So far this year, the centre has assisted police in 13 gold theft cases, and the fingerprinting technique has already attracted significant interest from other gold producing countries.
"Although the technique is still in its infancy, the results to date are extremely encouraging.
"By using this new equipment to analyse samples of allegedly stolen gold, we hope to be able to establish its deposit of origin and thus assist police in solving some of the many cases of gold theft which occur in WA each year.
"It is also significant for gold producers, because it means that once a gold sample is identified as having come from a particular mine or deposit, stolen gold could be returned to its owner."
Mr Hill said the purchase of the laser-MS would not have been possible without substantial financial contributions from the Research Centre for Advanced Mineral and Materials Processing at the University of WA, and the Department of Agriculture.
The equipment can also be applied in the field of mineral exploration and processing, advanced materials production, occupational health, environmental studies and forensic science.
The fully automated laser-MS system can be used to detect parts per billion of 72 different elements, and is both faster and more cost effective than previous technology.
The x-ray diffractometer is fully automated and capable of determining the mineral composition of up to 20 samples in a single automated run.