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University of Colorado Denver | Anschutz Medical Campus

UC Denver Magazine

Digital detective

Who knew? Sounds have fingerprints!

Professor Richad Sanders
Professor Richard Sanders and research associate Peter Popol

Editor’s Note: The University of Colorado Denver community grieved the sudden death of Professor Richard Sanders in August 2009. The following article about his program appeared in the UC Denver magazine earlier in the year.

One seldom hears music and forensics in the same breath. Professor Richard Sanders plans to make that a more common pairing in crime labs and courtrooms.

Sanders, who once co-scored "Alfred Packer: the Musical" with South Park creator Trey Parker, is now an expert in digital media authentication. He has been involved with some of the highest profile cases in the United States—JonBenet Ramsey, Kobe Bryant, Columbine, Oklahoma City and Ted Haggard. He is busy these days establishing the National Center for Media Forensics in the College of Arts and Media, using a $709,700 federal grant.



 Digital detective video:


"We’ll be working with students from mathematics, physics, engineering, music, computer science and biometrics. And I’ve been talking with the FBI, CIA, Scotland Yard, Secret Service, Drug Enforcement Agency, Department of Justice and Department of Defense," Sanders says. "We’ll have specialized classrooms and computer labs. The program will be 48 credit hours, and we’ll have a 10- to 14-student cohort."

Sanders landed the federal grant on the strength of his research into the evidence the nation’s power grid leaves on recordings. Any time you use digital media in the United States, you use one of three power grids: the East, the West or Texas. Each grid produces telltale fluctuations on recordings so Sanders proposes that those fluctuations be continuously documented so that any future recording can be matched up to each grid’s unique fingerprint and the precise time of recording determined.

Sanders says the National Center for Media Forensics will advance the field and will create the first graduate program in media forensics. He also plans to operate a continuing education program for the law enforcement community.