Fingerprints, faces and irises are well established ways to identify people, but at West Virginia University student researchers are going beyond to add additional ways to strengthen recognition—such as identifying a person using the blood vessel patterns visible in the white of their eye.

WVU is a leading institution in the study of biometrics and serves as a hub for groundbreaking research and collection of the extensive data needed to support it.

“The study of biometrics is based on the fact that certain parts of the human anatomy are unique to an individual, including fingerprints, irises, voices and DNA, among other traits. Once a person’s unique data is documented, it can then be used to identify them,” said Simona Crihalmeanu, a research associate and doctoral student at WVU.

In order to further understanding of biometrics, researchers at WVU explore both new features that may be unique as well as how multiple features might be used in combination to more accurately identify individuals. For instance, people can be identified through the patterns on their irises, the part of the eye surrounding the pupil, Crihalmeanu said.

Crihalmeanu is involved in her own groundbreaking research at WVU under the direction of Arun Ross, associate professor in the Lane Department of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering.

Her work is exploring the possibility that people can be identified not only through the patterns on their irises, but also through the vein patterns visible in the white part of the eye, called the sclera.

“The idea of using vein patterns on the conjunctiva and episclera is a new approach in biometrics. These veins are believed to be unique and difficult to imitate. When their information is combined with iris patterns, they can provide a very strong biometric cue,” Crihalmeanu said.

The sclera project is one of many research innovations that received their seed funding from WVU’s Center for Identification Technology Research, a National Science Foundation Industry/University Cooperative Research Center. The center is funded by over 20 different affiliate organizations, which are government and industry leaders in biometric systems.

“Because CITeR projects are selected and monitored by its affiliates, students at WVU are able to participate in research for the very organizations that may be employing them some day. CITeR helps orient their research to solve real-world problems and gives them great experience,” said Lawrence Hornak, CITeR’s founding director and a Byrd Professor in the Lane Department of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering.

Solving the challenges of biometrics in the real world is exactly what the sclera project does.

“In real life situations it is often difficult to capture the complete iris so part of the iris information is often lost or of poor quality. However when the gaze of the subject hides the iris, the sclera is often revealed. Simona’s work, based on a patent filed by Reza Derakhshani and Arun Ross, opens the possibility of adding the vein structure visible in the sclera to iris information for a combined ocular biometric,” Hornak said.

CITeR is holding its next biannual meeting in May, at which it will finalize its 2010 portfolio of projects. For more information, visit

For more information about biometrics studies at WVU, visit .



CONTACT: Lawrence Hornak, Computer Science and Electrical Engineering