image description

Author Presentation Abstracts

Abstracts are listed in alphabetical order by presenting author name. Check this page regularly for additions and updates.

A Tale of Two Residues: How Thoughtful Curation of Reference Materials Aid in Unknown Identifications
Otyllia Abraham — Microtrace, LLC
Chemical residues are a class of contaminants that can be found on a number of surfaces or products and in various forms such as films, discolorations, and collections of particles. The presence of these residues can result in consumer complaints, as well as failed quality assessments due to contaminated equipment or product batch rejections. The identification of a residue sample can help industry clients prevent recurrence when a source of the unknown residue, or the method of formation, can be determined.

Residues represent a challenging subset of samples due to a combination of factors, including: 1) the possibility of multiple components, 2) the matrix on which they are received, 3) the fleeting nature of some deposits, and 4) the interpretation of results to elucidate a potential source. Sample isolation and analysis is contingent on the matrix on which the residue is received and the nature of the residue itself. In order to fully characterize a residue, a suite of microscopical examination and orthogonal instrumental analyses are often necessary. Due to the complex nature of residue analyses, the determination of an origin is largely dependent on scientific interpretation of the components identified through microscopical examination and instrumental analyses. Interpretation of a residue containing multiple components is aided significantly by a knowledge of potential sources that may be used within a facility, such as detergents or lubricants. While a surficial knowledge of such sources may be gleaned through their Safety Data Sheets, the in-house analysis of these materials considerably increases the potential for a source determination.

This presentation explores two residue case studies and how the curation of common industrial detergent reference materials directly aided in a source determination.

A Rare 1972 Marilyn Monroe Photo Book: Genuine or Fabrication?
Joseph Barabe (presenting author) — Barabe & Associates LLC
Walter Rantanen — SGS Integrated Paper Services
Patricia Fisher — Fisher Document Laboratory

A winery that used a different photo of Marilyn Monroe for each vintage of its Marilyn Merlot was named as a defendant in a copyright dispute. The defendant claimed that the photo was taken by Takashi Oyama and that the image in question was from a book of photographs of Monroe that was published in 1972. The plaintiff, the son of photographer Carl Perutz, claimed that his father had photographed Marilyn Monroe in 1958 and that the questioned photo was from that session. The evidence was the book itself. Microscopical examination of the document included printing process identification and the history of introduction of several printing processes. Analysis of the paper substrate was also instrumental in determining its probable date of manufacture. A brief timeline for printing process commercial availability will also be presented.

The Examination of Stomach Contents in a Suspected Suicide
Jason Beckert — Microtrace LLC
This presentation will discuss a case study involving the examination of the stomach contents of an individual suspected of committing suicide. The sample was submitted to our laboratory by a medical examiner who recognized the presence of some foreign material during an autopsy. He wanted to know if this material, ingested shortly prior to the decedent’s demise, could be related to the cause of death. Our analysis focused on the identification of this unknown material that we determined to be leaves and seeds from a yew (Taxus) plant. Yew plants, native to many regions in the Northern Hemisphere, are also commonly used in landscaping and are known to contain poisonous alkaloids. This presentation will also discuss the historical usage of yew plants as agents to facilitate suicide and homicidal poisonings.

3D Printing: Creating Enlarged Models for Communicating and Teaching
Kevin Brady — Tredegar Surface Protection LLC
Communicating microscopic findings with non-microscopist colleagues and students can be challenging. Enlarged 3D models of microscopical images can help one gain an appreciation for microscopical structures and concepts. Some three-dimensional images from a white light interferometer and enlarged models of the same images will be shared and discussed.

Microscopy and Microanalysis of Solution Dyed Fibers
Kelly Brinsko Beckert (presenting author), Otyllia Abraham, Ethan Groves, Brendan Nytes, Christopher S. Palenik, and Skip Palenik — Microtrace, LLC
The color of a fiber is an important and distinguishing feature exploited by fiber analysts throughout the various stages of a forensic fiber comparison. This includes not only microscopical examinations, but also microanalytical techniques to identify the colorants (in addition to the fiber-forming polymers). Our current research is focused on solution dyed (i.e., pigmented) fibers, which are colored by the addition of insoluble pigment to the liquid polymer prior to extrusion. Solution dyed fibers are becoming increasingly common due to a variety of factors, including their ability to withstand harsh cleaning agents, inherent resistance to fading, and environmentally friendly manufacturing methods. The number and colors of pigments utilized in a given fiber, their identity, particle size, and optical properties represent unexploited properties that can be used to evaluate fiber associations or provide investigative information during a fiber analysis. However, there have been no systematic studies of pigmented fibers, and therefore, no practical guidance is available to the bench-level analyst to identify, characterize, or interpret pigmented fiber evidence in forensic fiber cases.

To address this knowledge gap, a systematic study of 225 solution dyed fiber samples was undertaken. The selected fiber samples span major manufacturers, include various applications of solution dyed fibers, and represent the variety of colors and polymers that are produced. This presentation summarizes the results obtained through polarized light, oil immersion, and fluorescence microscopy. Analysis of this expansive dataset will be presented to explore and summarize the microscopical observations. This will include data concerning the number of pigment types detected within a given fiber, as well as enumerations of the trends in color, morphology, and fluorescence characteristics of individual pigment grains as a function of polymer and color. Initial insights related to pigment identification from bulk elemental analysis by energy-dispersive X-ray spectroscopy, microspectrophotometry, and Raman microspectroscopy of the pigments will also be discussed.

Assessing Redundancy of UV-Vis Microspectrophotometry, Scanning Electron Microscopy/Energy Dispersive Spectroscopy, Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy, and Raman Spectroscopy to the Detection of Distinguishing Features of Colored Spray Paint
Morgan Carpenter (presenting author), Jared Estevanes, and Patrick Buzzini — Department of Forensic Science, Sam Houston State University
Forensic paint examination utilizes an analytical scheme that begins with microscopical examinations followed by different instrumental analysis techniques. Several of these methods, when used in sequence, detect analytical information on the same components of the paint formulation that leads to positing that redundancy in their joint use exists. This redundancy, which may also vary depending on paint color, may limit the overall discriminating abilities of the adopted analytical scheme. This study surveyed the use of various instrumental analysis methods typically used in forensic paint examinations and recommended in the document ASTM Standard E1610-18 Standard Guide for Forensic Paint Analysis and Comparison to evaluate their potential redundancy of response to the detection of features of interest in paint samples. UV-Vis microspectrophotometry (UV-Vis MSP), scanning electron microscopy/energy dispersive spectroscopy (SEM/EDS), Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR), and Raman spectroscopy were used to analyze five spray paint brands in five colors (black, blue, red, silver/gray, and white) as an example. An understanding of redundancy can inform the trace evidence examiner about the best protocol to be adopted as well as the limitations of combining different methods for a given paint color.

Tremolite/Actinolite Concentrations in Chrysotile
Eric J. Chatfield — Chatfield Technical Consulting Limited
There has been an ongoing controversy about the presence or absence of amphibole, such as tremolite or actinolite, in commercial chrysotile. When tremolite/actinolite fibers were first discovered to be a major contributor to the asbestos fiber content in lung tissues of former workers in the Quebec chrysotile industry, it was suggested that these fibers could be responsible for mesothelioma and lung cancer found in these workers, rather than a consequence of the much larger exposures to chrysotile. This proposal became known as “the amphibole hypothesis,” and it became of great interest to the U.S. personal injury litigation community. Although numerous measurements of tremolite/actinolite in chrysotile-containing commercial products have been made in support of litigation, very few measurements have been made on chrysotile from individual mines.

Recent publications continue to refer to the reference standard UICC-B chrysotile and chrysotile from one Quebec mine as “tremolite-free.” A study was conducted to measure the concentrations of tremolite/actinolite in UICC-B and UICC-A chrysotile by transmission electron microscopy and also in chrysotile from a number of different mines. For many sources of chrysotile in which significant concentrations of tremolite/actinolite were detected, the size distribution of the tremolite/actinolite fibers clearly shows that it is asbestos. Given the concentrations of tremolite/actinolite fibers observed, the higher durability and higher carcinogenic potency of tremolite/actinolite asbestos compared with those of chrysotile could make it a significant or perhaps the only contributor to the carcinogenic effects observed in chrysotile workers.

“I’m Tired”: The Case of a Damaged Truck Tire
Pete Diaczuk — John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY
This is a case study about a truck-tire failure that was blamed on the driver. The tire failure allegedly caused the truck driver to lose control and crash the government vehicle. Upon examination of the tire damage, the accident investigator accused the driver of sabotaging the tire after the accident in order to blame the tire for the crash instead of admitting that he had driven carelessly. The driver admitted that he had brushed against the curb, causing the tire to blow out immediately. However, he was fired for trying to conceal his error by puncturing the tire with a knife. An examination of the tire hole with polarized light microscopy revealed the true cause of the accident.

Microchemical Analysis of Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD)
Jim Dunlop — Kalamazoo County Sheriff’s Office
The hallucinogenic compound lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), formally associated with 1960s counterculture, has made a resurgence. The illicit psychedelic drug had faded into relative obscurity with the end of the hippie movement. However, there has been a marked increase in the use of LSD across the U.S. in the past 5 years.

With the increase of suspected LSD samples encountered in the crime lab, a check of the published data regarding microscopical analysis proved to be woefully inadequate. This presentation will focus on the use of polarized light microscopy and microchemical methods to identify LSD and will detail its history, including its origin, manufacture, and use.

Revealing What Leeuwenhoek Saw
Brian J Ford
Antony van Leeuwenhoek died 300 years ago, and this presentation commemorates his life’s work. Forty years ago, Brian J. Ford used an original Leeuwenhoek microscope in Holland to take the first color photographs of Leeuwenhoek’s own specimens, which Professor Ford had discovered, hidden among the collections of the Royal Society of London. But what could Leeuwenhoek observe as he explored the microscopical world? Today we experience video micrographs taken through single-lensed microscopes. At last we can reprise what the first microscopists saw centuries ago. The author will present this talk via a pre-recorded video.

Without a Trace: Quantifying Declines in Trace Analysis using Project FORESIGHT
Matthew A. Franzman (presenting speaker) — School of Criminal Justice, College of Public Affairs, University of Baltimore
Paul J. Speaker — John Chambers College of Business and Economics, West Virginia University

Many forensic laboratories around the world have been experiencing declines in trace analysis in recent years. These declines may be observed as a lower demand for trace analysis, a reduction of resources (staffing or funding) allocated toward trace analysis, or worse, the shutdown of a trace analysis section. Project FORESIGHT was developed to identify trends across forensic laboratories by providing laboratory managers the data they need to reallocate resources and address inefficiencies. Project FORESIGHT participants represent a variety of international forensic laboratories who serve national, state, regional, or metropolitan populations. We examined Project FORESIGHT data from 2014 to 2020 to quantify recent declines in trace analysis where trace analysis is defined as paint, glass, hair, fiber, explosive, fire debris, and gunshot residue analysis. Quantifying declines may represent the first step toward reversing downward trends and achieving long-term sustainable growth in trace analysis.

Developing Automated Mineral Identification by SEM-EDS for Forensic Laboratories
Ethan Groves (presenting author), Jack Hietpas, and Christopher S. Palenik — Microtrace LLC
Despite its ubiquity, soil remains one of the most underexploited classes of physical trace evidence. This stems from a combination of a general knowledge gap of the probative value of soil evidence to link physical objects or people to locations and, a lack of training for analysts to conduct the often particle-based characterizations of minute amounts of soil. Automated mineral identification using scanning electron microscopy with energy dispersive X-ray spectrometry (SEM-EDS) coupled with R, an open-source statistical software package, provides a method that utilizes instrumentation and expertise that already exists in most forensic laboratories. Further, this method can provide quantitative compositional and mineral-count information to aid in the characterization and comparison of soil evidence.

This presentation discusses the analysis of several hundred specimens from Microtrace LLC’s mineral reference collection to evaluate, test, and optimize the various aspects of the method. Topics include sample preparation methods, spectral collection time, adjustment of instrument operation conditions, post-processing, evaluation of multiple search algorithms, and initial interpretations of the results from real-world soil samples.

3D Light Microscopy Images
Andrew A. “Tony” Havics — pH2, LLC
Over the years, 3D images have been both desired and used to provide an enhanced view of microscopic specimens. In general, one can say there are two approaches to 3D representation, both tied to human factors. The first approach is based on stereographic image production and the second is based on serial or continuous depth of focus. The stereographic approach relies on the natural human perspective of viewing an object from two eyes gathering light waves at offset angles from one another that are then combined into a single image by the brain. The 3D effect derives from angle of view to a fixed focal plane and the space within the depth of focus range for that plane. The second approach attempts to create an image completely in focus in all planes. The first can be achieved by tilting the specimen, using offset optics to mimic stereography, color separation and isolation techniques, and modifying the optical path in two different ways. The second approach typically uses image stacking but could be accomplished with continuous selective directed lighting.

Clay Staining
Andrew A. “Tony” Havics — pH2, LLC
The staining of clays to aid in identification has long been recognized as a useful microscopical technique. Perhaps the significant look was Faust’s Staining of Clay Minerals as a Rapid Means of Identification in Natural and Beneficiated Products in 1940. Staining can also be used to relate fundamental clay properties as cation exchange capacity, dry bond strength, casting rate, and even specific surface, using the methylene blue index (MBI). Over the years some mixed results have emerged. In yet another attempt to add to that knowledge, we evaluated benzidine, nitrobenzene with malachite green, and methylene blue. We evaluated a well-crystallized and a poorly crystallized kaolin, Ca-montmorillonite, Na-montmorillonite, synthetic mica-montmorillonite, hectorite (with CaCO3), polygorskite attapulgite, ferruginous smectite, illite, sepiolite, rectorite, nontronite, and vermiculite.

Microscopy in the Study of Asbestos-Containing Joint Compound
James R. Millette — Millette Technical Consulting
After World War II, drywall (wallboard, plasterboard, and gypsum board) became the common construction material for interior walls in buildings. Before the walls can be painted, it is common practice to seal the seams between the boards and cover nails with joint compound (mud, spackling, taping compound, or joint treatment material). Most joint compounds from the 1940s into the late 1970s contained chrysotile asbestos in various formulations with binding agents such as limestone, gypsum, and/or casein, and later, polyvinyl alcohol. The formulas also contained fillers such as quartz, attapulgite, kaolinite, perlite, talc, or mica. Analyses by PLM determined the chrysotile asbestos content of samples of Bondex and Georgia Pacific products to be 1-5% and 3-8%, respectively. No amphibole asbestos fibers were found in the Georgia Pacific product tested using the acid/base digestion preparation procedure. During simulation testing by MVA Scientific Consultants, the asbestos level in the breathing zone of the worker during mixing of Bondex Joint Compound ranged from 6.9 to 12 F/cc (PCM modified by TEM). The level was below detection during application. During sanding, the asbestos level in the breathing zone of the worker ranged from 1.9 to 5.5 F/cc.

Do You Feel Lucky? Characterization of Shavings from Lottery Scratch Tickets
Brendan Nytes — Microtrace LLC
This talk stemmed from an unknown material that was submitted to our laboratory for analysis. The sample was described as “metal shavings” and was suspected to be related to illegal drug activity. The substance was initially recognized during a visual examination. The visual identification was later confirmed through a combination of microanalysis and scientific literature. This talk will discuss the case, our approach to this identification, and the analytical characteristics of various scratch-off tickets.

Soil Preparation for Forensic Research and Analysis
Liam O’Callaghan (presenting author), Ethan Groves, Jack Hietpas, Skip Palenik, and Christopher S. Palenik — Microtrace LLC
The analysis of soil for forensic purposes can include a complex series of analyses that can include geological, biological, and anthropogenic fractions of a sample. The initial steps of this process include documenting, sieving, and separating a soil into fractions that can be subjected to further analysis. As part of an extensive research project spanning several hundred soil samples, a preparation scheme modified from Skip Palenik’s technique for microscopical soil examination has been adopted to isolate various size and density fractions of the mineral component. This talk will provide an overview of this process and the challenges encountered in processing soils from a range of depositional environments. A qualitative overview of the resulting fractions and comparisons back to the original samples will be presented.

Devil in the Details: Attributing Significance to Minor Analytical Data in a Forensic Comparison
Christopher S. Palenik — Microtrace LLC
Forensic trace evidence comparisons are generally based upon multiple lines of analytical data that are used to determine if a sample is consistent or inconsistent with a suspected source. In the reporting phase of the analysis, this multifaceted dataset is typically condensed into a single sentence conclusion. For example, a conclusion may read, “Items Q and K are consistent by color, texture, and composition.” This generic conclusion, or a similar statement, can be found in reports based on materials as disparate as fibers, paint, and soil, and the conclusion is often, if not typically, presented without further discussion or documentation (e.g., images, spectra, data).

While superficially, such conclusions are simplified to a single, apparently, definitive answer, a critical review of the underlying data often shows a more complex story. Through examples, this talk will illustrate how recognizing and exploring the actual significance of underlying microanalytical data can lead to more nuanced findings. In some cases, careful review will disclose that the analytical work is actually quite cursory and less probative than implied, raising questions about the significance of a conclusion. In still other cases, these reviews have identified analytical differences of unknown significance. When the opportunity arises to explore and account for these differences through further analysis, we have found associations turn to eliminations and other instances where an association becomes more significant than originally implied. Such reviews require a critical look at the original raw data; a strong, fundamental understanding of the trace materials themselves; the preparation methods employed; and analytical approaches used to generate them. While such efforts are time consuming, they can lead to deeper insights into the significance of trace evidence evaluations.

Collecting, Analyzing, and Enjoying Chemical and Alchemical Art
Skip Palenik — Microtrace LLC
The presenter has been interested in paintings depicting chemists and alchemists1 since admiring the black and white picture of an “alchemist in his laboratory,” which served as the front piece of the booklet of instructions accompanying his second chemistry set. As a young adult, I saw for the first time, a large color print of the painting from which that picture had been taken and could not believe how beautiful it was to behold for the first time, as the artist had intended, in terms of size and color. No wonder! It had originally been painted for the Hercules Powder Company’s calendar in 1937 by N.C. Wyeth.

This presentation will follow the author’s acquisition of certain paintings over time, beginning with the collection of prints, which grew into commissioned reproductions of admired works, and finally into the acquisition of signed original paintings, slowly and over the years, as funds permitted. The artworks to be shown will be accompanied by notes on the artists who painted them, some thoughts on the personal enjoyment of analyzing their pigments, media, and supports, as well as learning what they reveal by IR and X-ray imaging. Included is commentary on the surprises and creative inspiration that beautiful images provide while working in the laboratory to solve our clients’ problems.

1Paintings of microscopists and microchemists are much harder to come by, but that is another story.

The Investigation of the Lost 9/11 Ground Zero American Flag
Nicholas Petraco
In the early afternoon of Sept. 11, 2001, amid the burning rubble and chaos of the World Trade Center attack, New York City firefighters removed a small American flag from a private yacht docked near the World Trade Center and raised it at Ground Zero. The flag became a symbolic image of American patriotism. The photograph of the firefighters raising the flag above the rubble was taken by Thomas E. Franklin of The Bergen Record. His photo has been compared by many to the iconic photo by Joe Rosenthal of the six Marines raising the U.S. flag on Mount Suribachi during the battle of Iwo Jima in World War II.

The 9/11 flag was then reportedly presented at a patriotic rally in Yankee Stadium and was signed by many dignitaries, and then it reportedly traveled around the world on a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier. In April 2002, New York City officials returned the flag to its owners, who discovered it was not the flag taken from their yacht. The whereabouts of the authentic 9/11 flag remained a mystery for nearly 12 years until it was reported missing on “Brad Meltzer’s Lost History” TV show on Oct. 14, 2014. A few days after the show aired, an anonymous former marine presented a small flag to a firefighter in Everett, WA, stating that this was the actual 9/11 flag. This prompted a yearlong investigation to determine the origin of this questionable flag. This talk recounts the events surrounding the acquisition, raising, disappearance, recovery, analysis, authentication, and installation of the lost 9/11 flag.

Basic Light Microscopy Techniques Used in the Initial Analysis of 9/11 Ground Zero Dust
Nicholas Petraco
The overwhelming task of analyzing the Ground Zero dust generated by the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center in New York City was a daunting task, at best. What possible analytical method(s) could be utilized to achieve an accurate yet timely report and give the thousands of first responders answers to their questions: What are we breathing in? Is it dangerous? Do the standard personal-protective equipment provide sufficient protection? Will this dust cause future illness?

As a practicing forensic microscopist for more than 40 years, the author had the answer. Stereomicroscopy, polarized light microscopy, and dispersion staining (DS) are the powerful light microscopy methods and techniques used successfully throughout his career to study, characterize, and identify the limitless number of substances found in household, street, and construction dust. Thanks to the extensive work and teaching of Dr. Walter McCrone, forensic scientists have employed these methods to study, identify, and compare materials such as glass fragments, hairs, synthetic and natural fibers, minerals, pigments, inorganic and organic salts, pollens, fibers, plant matter, insect parts, and the myriad other materials present in dust specimens. There is no better way to tackle such a Herculean task. This study presents the results of the author’s initial characterization of what is now known to be deadly dust from Ground Zero.

Morphological Differences in Grass Fiber Pulps Used in Papermaking
Walter J. Rantanen — SGSIPS Testing
The use of papermaking fiber of different species from the Poaceae (Gramineae) family has been utilized for centuries. Cereal straws have been a very common source for use due to the easy availability. Large amounts of certain grass species growing in a local area have also been historically utilized. This was true especially before the large-scale pulping of wood fiber. The expanded availability of certain wood pulp fiber decreased the use of grass pulps, initially. With the “green” movement, some types have increased, especially bamboo, bagasse, and wheat straw. Many grass pulps are very similar in appearance under the microscope. There may be only subtle differences or overlap of features, which can hinder correct identification. Some morphological features will be presented to assist in their identification.

The Perfect Shots: Crafting a Photomicrographic Setup and Image List for an Atlas of Charred Particles
Sebastian Sparenga — McCrone Research Institute
When presenting scientific research, one sometimes has the difficult task of showing the results of their work in the most comprehensive manner. As a microscopist, one of the best ways to do this is with one or more photomicrographs. This presentation will discuss a setup necessary to obtain the most beneficial images using a wide variety of light microscope illumination conditions, including plane polarized light, top/reflected light, crossed polars, slightly uncrossed polars, crossed polars and a Red I compensator, and various combined conditions, including how to display them for publication. This work is in preparation of a current research project involving unreacted, partially burned, and fully burned particles associated with low explosives and their microscopic residues.

Is it a Van Gogh? Microanalysis of Pigments to Establish Artwork Provenance
Katie M. White (presenting author) and Christopher S. Palenik — Microtrace LLC
As you’re walking through the thrift store or browsing an estate sale, a painting catches your eye and you wonder: could this be the lost work of a famous artist? For the curious art collector, analytical testing of the work can provide factual evidence that can help to establish provenance and lend support to potential claims. In the case of well-known artists, their pigment palette has often been studied and reported in the literature. If this information is not known, pigment identification can help to constrain the timeframe in which the work may have been created. Given the potential value of some artworks, it is imperative that the analytical methods chosen provide confident results, while also being minimally destructive.

This presentation emphasizes the valuable information that can be derived from a small particle of paint, with case examples used to illustrate the type of information that can be obtained. Polarized light microscopy, Fourier transform infrared microspectroscopy, and energy-dispersive X-ray spectroscopy each contribute to the pigment identity and ultimate interpretation.