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Fingerprint Pointers

Meira Feinman

We all have them, yet none are exactly the same. In fact, they’re all so different that even identical twins don’t have the same ones. They’re formed before we’re born, and they stay the same throughout our lives. Have you guessed what they are yet? We’re talking about fingerprints, of course! (Though actually, the same could be said for toe prints, also unique to each person.)

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

All those details on our fingertips are ridges — they’re slightly raised. Those ridges pick things up, like sweat or ink, and then when we place our fingertips down on surfaces, that sweat or ink comes off, in the pattern of our fingers. If a special powder is sprinkled over a surface we’ve touched, the powder will highlight the fingerprint pattern. Nowadays there’s also a way to measure the electricity of a surface in a way that reveals a fingerprint pattern.

Someone who’s pressed harder on the surface will leave a different amount of sweat or ink on it, though. Pressing on glass will be different than wood. So in fact, not only are fingerprints unique, but also the ways we leave them around! That’s why people who study fingerprints are highly trained experts in dermatoglyphics.

What else do fingerprint ridges help us with, besides figuring out who’s who? Well, they improve our sense of touch, since they’re so detailed that they can give our brains even more detailed information about uneven or strange surfaces. They may also help us grip tough or wet surfaces.

With countless unique patterns, one of the most unique fingerprint patterns may be … nothing at all. Yes, it can happen — there’s a rare medical condition called adermatoglyphia, whose only symptom is smooth fingertips, palms, toes, and soles.

While that sounds interesting, it can cause problems. For example, babies’ footprints are often used by hospitals to identify them. Also, they’d never be able to use biometric identification [see sidebar] while traveling. 

 

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