Journal Published Online: 01 September 2000
Volume 45, Issue 5

Scanning Electron Microscopic Analysis of Skin Resolution as an Aid in Identifying Trauma in Forensic Investigations



The forensic investigator is frequently confronted with cases that present with wounds and blunt force trauma. Presently, the forensic investigator depends upon previous experience and further investigative deduction of the crime scene to analyze these injuries. Although not readily apparent to the naked eye, many skin tissue injuries can be visualized with scanning electron microscopy (SEM). This study was designed to establish skin trauma resolution using SEM in various skin preparations. Tissue trauma was induced on leather, preserved skin, fresh skin, and living skin using dies of varying thread size. Calibrated pressure forces in pounds per square inch (psi) were applied and impressions made using vinyl polysiloxane. Positive replicas of the tissues were prepared for SEM using isocyanate resin. After sputter coating the cast with 35 nm of gold-palladium, electron micrographs were generated using a Jeol JSM-5310L V scanning electron microscope. To establish resolution, thread widths of 52, 104, and 208 threads per inch (tpi) and trauma forces of 150, 200, and 250 psi were used to produce the impressions. Microgrooves that were identified on the die threads were analyzed. The optimum pressure for resolution studies was 150 psi using the 52 tpi die on the leather sample (4.67 + 0.88 µm, p = 0.046 and 0.025, respectively, by ANOVA). The resolution was compared to that of leather using preserved, fresh, and living skin. The resolution in preserved and fresh skin was less than for leather (9.00 ± 1.73 and 10.5 ± 4.5 versus 4.67 ± 0.88 µm, p = 0.09 and p = 0.20, respectively). Living skin resolution was 3 µm at 52 tpi and 100 psi. Various implements of blunt force trauma were also examined using the leather sample. Time after trauma resolution was examined at 0 (3 µm), 5 (6 µm), 10 (8 µm), and 20 (9 µm) min in living tissue. A comparison between the microgrooves on the die replicas and the tissue trauma impressions revealed striking agreement for both linearity and resolution. Analysis of the microgrooves suggests that discrete morphological characteristics are seen in skin tissue traumas. This method could expand the tools available for the forensic investigation of blunt force trauma.

Author Information

Rawson, RB
University of New Mexico, Department of Surgery, Division of Neurosurgery, Albuquerque, NM
Starich, GH
University of Nevada School of Medicine and the University and Community College System of Nevada, Las Vegas and Reno, NV
Rawson, RD
American Board of Forensic Odontology and deputy coroner, Clark County, NV
Pages: 5
Price: $25.00
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Stock #: JFS14825J
ISSN: 0022-1198
DOI: 10.1520/JFS14825J