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Slide 1. Fibres and forensics. Text and images by the Centre for Microscopy & Microanalysis, University of Queensland, Australia, August 2007. Slide 2. Fibres: Natural [animal & mineral] Synthetic [human –made] What we will cover: 1) Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM).

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Fibres and forensics

Slide 1

Fibres and forensics

Text and images by the Centre for Microscopy & Microanalysis, University of Queensland, Australia, August 2007

Fibres and forensics

Slide 2


Natural [animal & mineral]

Synthetic [human –made]

What we will cover:

1) Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM).

2) How to identify fibres using the SEM.

3) The identification of a mystery fibre.

Fibres and forensics

What is scale all about?

Slide 3




Fibres and forensics

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Resolution (not magnification!) is the ability to separate two objects optically


Partially resolved


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With enough resolution we can magnify an object many millions of times and still see new detail

This is why we use electron microscopes

If you magnified your thumb nail just 10,000 times it would be about the size of a football pitch.

For example think of the size of Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane

Fibres and forensics

Slide 6

Electron beam produced here

Beam passes down the microscope column

Electron beam now tends to diverge

But is converged by electromagnetic lenses

Cross section of electromagnetic lenses


Diagram of Scanning Electron Microscope or SEM

in cross section - the electrons are in green

Fibres and forensics

Slide 7



Using X-rays and the scanning electron microscope


Electron falls back again to inner ring [lower energy state or valence] & burst of X-ray energy given off that equals this

= Characteristic packet of energy

Fibres and forensics

What the X-rays tell us

Slide 8

Quantity of packets

Characteristic oxygen peak

Energy of packets

in thousands of electron volts come off atoms

Characteristic carbon peak

Characteristic chlorine peak

Fibres and forensics

Some definitions of fibre

Any slender, elongated, threadlike object or structure.

A natural (e.g. plant, animal or mineral) or synthetic filament, capable of being spun into yarn.

Commonly also used in:

Botany: One of the elongated, thick-walled cells that give strength and support to plant tissue.

Anatomy: Any of the filaments constituting the extracellular matrix of connective tissue. Any of various elongated cells or threadlike structures, especially a muscle fiber or a nerve fiber.

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Fibres and forensics

Sample preparation for SEM

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Sample mount

12mm wide

Fibre samples are dried then mounted on 12mm metal stubs and coated with platinum.

Fibres and forensics

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Fibres and forensics

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The following images are of various natural (plant and animal) fibres and synthetic fibres imaged using a scanning electron microscope

Note: electrons provide monochrome images.

Fibres and forensics


Slide 13

Natural Fibres (Plant)

(A) Tissue paper at low magnification.

(B) Same tissue paper at higher magnification showing individual fibres.

How wide are these fibres?


Fibres and forensics

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Fibres and forensics


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Fibres and forensics

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Fibres and forensics

Not all hair is the same!

Rabbit hair (A) looks different from

human hair (B) under the SEM.

What are the differences?

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Fibres and forensics

Natural fibres


(A) Human hair strands at low magnification.

(B) & (C) At higher magnifications showing surface detail (scales).

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Fibres and forensics

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Human hair

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Fibres and forensics

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Fibres and forensics

Fibres can be

natural or synthetic.

But how can we tell them apart quickly and easily?

Coconut fibres (coir)

Shade cloth woven plastic fibres

We can use an SEM to examine the size, shape, surface detail and elemental composition

Slide 22

Fibres and forensics


Slide 23

  • Synthetic fibres

  • Plastic shade

  • cloth at

  • low magnification.

  • (B) Plastic shade

  • cloth at higher

  • magnification

  • showing smooth

  • individual fibres

  • and extrusion grooves.


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Shade cloth

Fibres and forensics

Synthetic fibre: velcro

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Fibres and forensics


Synthetic fibres

(A) Fibre glass at

low magnification.

(B) & (C) Fibre glass at progressively higher magnifications showing individual fibres.


Note smooth fibre surfaces



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Fibres and forensics


Slide 29

Asbestos – why is it

dangerous to health?


How many fibres this wide

would fit across 1 mm ?


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Fibres and forensics

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Fibres and forensics

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Mystery fibre

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Mystery fibre

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Slide 35

Fibres and forensics

Some fibres

have very



that are

seen easily

with the


As seen by a light microscope

6 mm

As seen by an SEM !

Slide 36

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