A forensic investigation of single human hair fibres using FTIR-ATR spectroscopy and chemometrics

Barton, Paul Matthew John (2011) A forensic investigation of single human hair fibres using FTIR-ATR spectroscopy and chemometrics. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


Human hair fibres are ubiquitous in nature and are found frequently at crime scenes often as a result of exchange between the perpetrator, victim and/or the surroundings according to Locard's Principle. Therefore, hair fibre evidence can provide important information for crime investigation. For human hair evidence, the current forensic methods of analysis rely on comparisons of either hair morphology by microscopic examination or nuclear and mitochondrial DNA analyses. Unfortunately in some instances the utilisation of microscopy and DNA analyses are difficult and often not feasible. This dissertation is arguably the first comprehensive investigation aimed to compare, classify and identify the single human scalp hair fibres with the aid of FTIR-ATR spectroscopy in a forensic context.

Spectra were collected from the hair of 66 subjects of Asian, Caucasian and African (i.e. African-type). The fibres ranged from untreated to variously mildly and heavily cosmetically treated hairs. The collected spectra reflected the physical and chemical nature of a hair from the near-surface particularly, the cuticle layer. In total, 550 spectra were acquired and processed to construct a relatively large database. To assist with the interpretation of the complex spectra from various types of human hair, Derivative Spectroscopy and Chemometric methods such as Principal Component Analysis (PCA), Fuzzy Clustering (FC) and Multi-Criteria Decision Making (MCDM) program; Preference Ranking Organisation Method for Enrichment Evaluation (PROMETHEE) and Geometrical Analysis for Interactive Aid (GAIA); were utilised.

FTIR-ATR spectroscopy had two important advantages over to previous methods: (i) sample throughput and spectral collection were significantly improved (no physical flattening or microscope manipulations), and (ii) given the recent advances in FTIR-ATR instrument portability, there is real potential to transfer this work.s findings seamlessly to on-field applications.

The "raw" spectra, spectral subtractions and second derivative spectra were compared to demonstrate the subtle differences in human hair. SEM images were used as corroborative evidence to demonstrate the surface topography of hair. It indicated that the condition of the cuticle surface could be of three types: untreated, mildly treated and treated hair. Extensive studies of potential spectral band regions responsible for matching and discrimination of various types of hair samples suggested the 1690-1500 cm-1 IR spectral region was to be preferred in comparison with the commonly used 1750-800 cm-1. The principal reason was the presence of the highly variable spectral profiles of cystine oxidation products (1200-1000 cm-1), which contributed significantly to spectral scatter and hence, poor hair sample matching. In the preferred 1690-1500 cm-1 region, conformational changes in the keratin protein attributed to the α-helical to β-sheet transitions in the Amide I and Amide II vibrations and played a significant role in matching and discrimination of the spectra and hence, the hair fibre samples.

For gender comparison, the Amide II band is significant for differentiation. The results illustrated that the male hair spectra exhibit a more intense β-sheet vibration in the Amide II band at approximately 1511 cm-1 whilst the female hair spectra displayed more intense α-helical vibration at 1520-1515cm-1. In terms of chemical composition, female hair spectra exhibit greater intensity of the amino acid tryptophan (1554 cm-1), aspartic and glutamic acid (1577 cm-1). It was also observed that for the separation of samples based on racial differences, untreated Caucasian hair was discriminated from Asian hair as a result of having higher levels of the amino acid cystine and cysteic acid. However, when mildly or chemically treated, Asian and Caucasian hair fibres are similar, whereas African-type hair fibres are different.

In terms of the investigation's novel contribution to the field of forensic science, it has allowed for the development of a novel, multifaceted, methodical protocol where previously none had existed. The protocol is a systematic method to rapidly investigate unknown or questioned single human hair FTIR-ATR spectra from different genders and racial origin, including fibres of different cosmetic treatments. Unknown or questioned spectra are first separated on the basis of chemical treatment i.e. untreated, mildly treated or chemically treated, genders, and racial origin i.e. Asian, Caucasian and African-type. The methodology has the potential to complement the current forensic analysis methods of fibre evidence (i.e. Microscopy and DNA), providing information on the morphological, genetic and structural levels.

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ID Code: 41873
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: Ayoko, Godwin & Kokot, Serge
Keywords: human hair, forensic investigation, hair fibres, FTIR-ATR spectroscopy, chemometrics
Divisions: Past > Schools > Chemistry
Past > QUT Faculties & Divisions > Faculty of Science and Technology
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 02 Jun 2011 06:06
Last Modified: 21 Sep 2016 07:52

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