It’s all SEM-antics, really…

Categories Research

Working with my excellent ex-PhD student, Dr Sarah Ellingham (who, I’m proud and delighted to say, now works for the ICRC), we’ve put out a paper which presents a quick and affordable way of determining whether bone has been burned by using an SEM.

One of the problems with the march of science, is that said science can be expensive to do, and therefore limits the countries and contexts in which is can be used. This is something that I’ve discussed before as a limiting factor, and personally is something that I feel we working in forensic science need to mitigate as much as possible. Which is why methods that use standard and routine bits of kit are so useful.

Here’s the abstract:

This study investigates the use of Scanning electron microscopy–energy-dispersive X-ray (SEM-EDX) as a diagnostic tool for the determination of the osseous origin of samples subjected to different temperatures. Sheep (Ovis aries) ribs of two experimental groups (fleshed and defleshed) were burned at temperatures of between 100°C and 1100°C in 100°C increments and subsequently analyzed with the SEM-EDX to determine the atomic percentage of present elements. Three-factor ANOVA analysis showed that neither the exposure temperature, nor whether the burning occurred with or without soft tissue present had any significant influence on the bone’s overall elemental makeup (p > 0.05). The Ca/P ratio remained in the osseous typical range of between 1.6 and 2.58 in all analyzed samples. This demonstrates that even faced with high temperatures, the overall gross elemental content and atomic percentage of elements in bone remain stable, creating a unique “fingerprint” for osseous material, even after exposure to extreme conditions.

The full paper can be found in the Journal of Forensic Sciences – doi: 10.1111/1556-4029.13541

I'm a Professor of Applied Biological Anthropology at Teesside University.

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