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The creation of an assessment tool for the analysis of two forms of heat damage in animal hair

WILKINSON, Laura, BAILEY, J. William and GWINNETT, Claire (2020) The creation of an assessment tool for the analysis of two forms of heat damage in animal hair. Forensic Science International, 312. ISSN 0379-0738

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Abstract or description

Animal cruelty cases can involve a variety of mistreatment to domestic animals. A common source of abuse is the use of heat sources, such as ovens, hot surfaces and microwaves. Analysis of damage to skin by a veterinarian is a key aspect of these investigations but additional information can be provided by observing the hair of the animal, including heat source type and exposure time. This study developed an objective grading system for the analysis of heat damage in hairs which can be used to quantify different damage characteristics including bubbling, discolouration, expansion of hair, fractures, changes to the medulla and scales and scale removal/melting. This grading scheme was applied to the investigation of dog (Canis familiaris) skin samples with full pelage and loose hairs exposed to microwaves and a heated environment in order to identify any distinguishing damage characteristics from the two different heated environments. Samples were exposed to a furnace for 1 min at different temperature ranges (50–350 °C with 50 °C intervals) and also a microwave at maximum power for different time periods (15, 30, 45, 60, 120, 180, 240 and 300 s). Hairs were extracted for examination using high powered light microscopy and scanning electron microscopy. Overall, it can be determined that the type of damage observed is influenced by the nature of heat applied and the context and substrate in which the hair is situated at the time of exposure. Using principal component analysis (PCA) it was concluded that as temperature increases in a furnace so does the severity of each of the damage characteristics observed. It can be noted that with furnace exposure, any one of the characteristics could be used to indicate the temperature to which it has been exposed. For furnace exposed samples there was no significant difference between loose or embedded hairs. PCA analysis determined that there are two independent forms of damage that occur when hairs are exposed to microwave radiation, these are: increased bubbling and discolouration in the root and increased bubbling and discolouration of the shaft and tip. Exposure time is correlated with both the root and shaft/tip observations. The results indicated some clear distinctions between heat source and exposure useful for the objective interpretation of such evidence. This standardised approach for the observation of heat damage characteristics in animal hair provides investigators with a tool to differentiate between methods of abuse, providing a greater understanding of the crime committed.

Item Type: Article
Faculty: School of Law, Policing and Forensics > Criminal Justice and Forensic Science
Depositing User: Laura WILKINSON
Date Deposited: 23 Jun 2020 14:27
Last Modified: 24 Feb 2023 13:59

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