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Professor Simona Francese BSc PhD, FHEA

Professor of Forensic and Bioanalytical Mass Spectrometry


I was appointed as a lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University in 2008 following a post doc at the University of Leeds in 2005 and post as Research Fellow at the Interdepartmental Centre of Mass Spectrometry, University of Florence, Italy (2005-2008). I teach separation and detection techniques, analytical science and bioanalytical methods. I am an internationally known researcher in the area of Bioanalytical and Forensic Mass Spectrometry and I work closely with the Home Office and West Yorkshire Police UK. I have been awarded the title of Professor of Forensic and Bioanalytical Mass Spectrometry in 2018.

  • About

    I hold a degree in Chemistry and a PhD in Chemical Sciences awarded by the University of Salerno, Italy, in 2000 and 2004 respectively. The PhD was split between the Italian institution and the University of Leeds, UK, thanks to a Marie Curie Fellowship. I have been promoted to Senior Lecturer and then to Reader at Sheffield Hallam University in 2009 and 2014 respectively. I lead two undergraduate modules and one MSc module in the areas of analytical chemistry and applied research.

    As an analytical chemist and mass spectrometrist, I developed my career at SHU by forming and leading a research group, engaging in commercial, media and public engagement activities, building and fostering important collaborations with prestigious partners such as the Home Office UK, West Yorkshire Police, the Ministry of Defense Science and Technology laboratory (DSTL) and the Netherlands Forensic Institute, as well as with pharmaceutical, mass spectrometry and forensic companies (e.g. GlaxoSmithKline, Waters, HTX technologies, Consolite Forensics) .

    I have contributed to raise the profile of Sheffield Hallam University through pioneering research on extracting intelligence from the chemistry of fingermarks developing MALDI mass spectrometry based technologies, as testified by the funding received since 2011 from the Home Office, West Yorkshire Police and DSTL (in addition to other sources of funding), the prestigious and continuous national and international coverage by important outlets, with the BBC being one such examples, and numerous invitations to deliver presentations on national and international platforms including plenary and keynote talks (over 80 to date). The research has been so successful that MALDI MS has now been included as a Category C, TLR 3-4 technique in the Home Office Fingermark Visualisation Manual launched in 2014. I am presently the Chair of the EU COST Action CA16101 MULTI-modal Imaging of FOREnsic SciEnce Evidence (MULTI-FORESEE)- tools for Forensic Science coordinating 28 countries and more than 100 members.

    I am extremely active in the research field, having published to date 57 peer reviewed papers, 4 application notes and 3 book chapters. My extensive and rounded research activities have led to my inclusion in the recent REF 2014 and in one of the impact case studies presented, becoming the Impact Coordinator for REF 2021. I was also featured in the case study for the Athena SWAN Competition in 2013 which led to the award of the silver medal and I was named "inspirational woman" in 2015 at Sheffield Hallam University.

    I undertake casework for the Police in the UK and Europe and for forensic providers with respect to extracting additional intelligence from fingermarks.

    I am heavily involved in teaching activities both through extensive direct contact with students and through devising learning and teaching strategies to enhance students' learning experience. I act as a referee for numerous journals and grant-awarding bodies including STW, MRC and the US Defence Army. I am member of two mass spectrometry societies, part of the prestigious International Fingermark Research Group and European Network of Forensic Science Institutes (only accepting members on invitation) and Fellow of the Higher Education.

  • Teaching

    I teach separation and detection methods with particular focus on chromatographic and advanced mass spectrometry techniques at both undergraduate and Master level. I also lead the Research Project Module guiding 250+ students towards becoming independent scientists and coordinating 50+ members of staff.

  • Research

    Biomolecular Sciences Research Centre

    Chemical Profiling and Imaging of fingermarks
    MALDI MSP and MALDI MSI method refinement for operational deployment in casework - this project focuses on maximising forensic opportunities from fingerprints by transferring laboratory MALDI MS Fingermark Profiling and Imaging techniques into protocols for routine operational use in casework. This work will represent the first significant enhancement to techniques which have remained largely unchanged for over 100 years. This project aims to deliver both offender profiling and enhance crime contextual information. Integration of these methodologies within the current fingerprinting workflows employed by Yorkshire and the Humber fingerprint identification services is an essential part of these developments. Such refined methodologies will enable robust and compatible workflows providing evidence to inform investigations and suitable to be submitted in a Court of Law. The research has been endorsed and supported by the Home Office CAST, the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (MoD), The Netherlands Forensic Institute and West Yorkshire Police (collaborators).

    Multi-informative and specific detection of blood in fingermarks via MALDI MS based strategies
    In violent offences, blood is often found at crime scenes. Important intelligence and assistance in event reconstruction can be obtained from ascertaining the presence of blood, its provenance, age and its association with fingermarks (the most used means of biometric identification). Currently used blood detection techniques suffer from “false positives” due to their relatively generic molecular targets; this project aims to develop a proteomic and MALDI MS based multidisciplinary approach for the device of operational workflows providing blood signatures in fingermarks and blood provenance in addition to detecting exogenous substances of forensic relevance. Insights into the determination of the age of a blood trace and order of deposition (mark in blood or bloodied mark) as well as into the donors pathophysiological state and identity will also be gained.

    The research has been endorsed and supported by the Home Office CAST, the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (MoD), and Elite Forensics LLC (US).

    Another strand of this research will shortly be the non invasive detection of cancer using fingertip smears. This project is funded by the MRC CiC scheme and will start in January 2019. The research has a primary diagnostic connotation but will feed into the plethora of information about an individual that we can gather through a fingerprint.

  • Publications

    A list of publications is available from the institutional repository, SHURA

    Patel E, Cicatiello P., Deininger L., Clench M. R., Marino G., Giardina P., Langenburg G., West A., Marshall P., Sears V., and Francese S. A proteomic approach for the rapid, multi-informative and reliable identification of blood. Analyst (2015) DOI: 10.1039/c5an02016f

    Francese S., Bradshaw R., Flinders B., Mitchell C., Bleay S., Cicero L., Clench MR. "Curcumin: a multipurpose matrix for MALDI Mass Spectrometry Imaging applications." Anal Chem. 2013, 85(10):5240-8.

    Bailey M.J., Bright N.J., Croxton R.S., Francese S., Ferguson L.S., Hinder S.J.,Jickells S., Jones B.J., Jones B.N., Kazarian S.G., Ojeda J.J., Webb R., Wolstenholme R., Bleay S. "Chemical Characterisation of Latent Fingerprints by MALDI, ToF-SIMS, MeV-SIMS, GC-MS, XPS and ATR-FTIR Spectroscopic Imaging - an Intercomparison". Anal Chem. 2012, 84(20):8514-8523

  • Other activities

    PhD external examiner
    International Consultant
    External Examiner for distance learning MSc forensic programme; Media and lay audience engagement

  • Postgraduate supervision

    Cameron Heaton - "Human identification through advanced forensic mass spectrometry of blood and fingermarks" (Oct 2017-Oct 2020)

    Previous supervision:

    Oct 2014 - Oct 2017 - Lisa Deininger - "Multi-informative and specific detection of blood in fingermarks via MALDI MS based strategies"

    Nov 2012 - Nov 2016 - Ekta Patel - "Using ion mobility mass spectrometry to investigate the distribution and affect of dosed compounds on endogenous molecules"

    Nov 2014 - Apr 2016 - Robert Bradshaw - "Chemical Profiling of fingermarks : MALDI MSP and MALDI MSI method refinement for operational deployment in casework”

    Oct 2011 - Oct 2014 - Robert Bradshaw - “Integration of MALDI MSI into the Home Office operational fingermark examination workflow”

    Oct 2009 - Oct 2012 - Leesa Ferguson - “Analysis of composition of latent fingerprints by spectroscopic imaging techniques”

  • Media

    Recent stories about my fingermark research have attracted worldwide coverage in trade and online publications, including BBC's 'The One Show', 'Click', 'Crimewatch Roadshaw' and 'BBC breakfast', as well as overseas programmes such as the German 'Finde den Lügner' ('Find the Liar').

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