Why this woman is a drug dealer’s worst nightmare
She may look unassuming but Dr Marie Morelato is a drug dealer's worst nightmare.
The forensic scientist has developed a way trace drug seizures made by the police back to their source - so one dealer can be implicated in a number of different busts.
When the Australian Federal Police (AFP) makes a drug seizure, the drugs are analysed for chemical composition.
Dr Morelato then collects that data and uses the chemical profile of the drugs to piece together different seizures and show when drugs have come from the one origin.
That analysis is then fed back to the AFP to investigate and ideally secure convictions.
"What we do is compare the different seizures of illicit drugs and based on the chemical composition they might share a common source," Dr Morelato, who works through the University of Technology Sydney's Centre for Forensic Science, told News Corp Australia.
"So that's who we would track it down to - either the dealer or the supplier or the producer.
"So with methamphetamine, "ice", inside the drug itself there's not just methamphetamine but a lot of different impurities that come from where and how they were made.
"Usually a producer or someone who makes these drugs will use a similar synthetic pathway and that is a signature of that producer."
A former forensic scientist with Switzerland police, Dr Morelato was able to take forensic drug intelligence techniques used in Switzerland to her work in Australia.
Her research has already uncovered "never seen before" links between drug seizures, giving police greater insight into the complex underground web of Australian organised crime.
The science is so precise it can even determine at what point on the "drug hierarchy" - from the Kingpin to the street drug runner - drugs were intercepted by police.
"So for instance, methamphetamine is usually made of ephedrine. So the starting material is ephedrine, and then the producer converts it to meth amphetamine and during this process of conversion there is different things re added, like more solvents, and these are left in the final product.
"Then the dealer will add other things like caffeine, paracetamol … so it give each drug a specific profile."
AFP's Co-ordinator of Forensic Operations and Engagement Mark Tahtouh said the agency's Forensics unit has a "long history" of collaboration with UTS.
"Research allows policing organisations such as the AFP to remain a step ahead of crime," Dr Tahtouh said.
"Projects typically allow for capability enhancement and / or the development of new capability that allows AFP Forensics to better support frontline police and have greater impact on complex challenges such as illicit drug manufacturing and trafficking by Transnational and Serious Organised Criminal (TSOC) groups," he said.
"Partnering with academia and industry is one of the many ways we work to outsmart TSOC groups."
He said collaboration with UTS on drug profiling and forensic intelligence has enhanced the capabilities of the AFP's Forensic Drug Intelligence (FDI) Team.
Originally published as Why this woman is a drug dealer's worst nightmare