The study of the decomposition of hair over time

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The study of the decomposition of hair over time

Postby Rosemary » Sat Sep 15, 2007 8:09 pm

I am taking a science research class and would like some help in the field of hair decompostion and how that could possibly be used in a forensics project. I was wondering if this has been done before, and if it is possible for a highschool student to do it. Also, is there any special equipment involved?
Kelly
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Re: The study of the decomposition of hair over time

Postby Louise » Sun Sep 16, 2007 8:18 am

Rosemary wrote:I am taking a science research class and would like some help in the field of hair decompostion and how that could possibly be used in a forensics project. I was wondering if this has been done before, and if it is possible for a highschool student to do it. Also, is there any special equipment involved?


Hi Kelly,
There is a lot of research on this topic and many different ways you could conduct and experiment. (For example, are you interested in hair in a hairbrush, hair that is buried, hair from a drain, etc? All will have different decomposition rates.) I suggest you try a simple internet search to obtain more information. I tried searching for "decomposition of hair and forensics" and got a ton of interesting hits.
I happen to use google as my default search engine. Different search engines search differently= give different results.

Two caveats on use of google, or any other search engine:

a. Small wording changes can have a big impact on the output. So experimentation is in order.
b. Beware of sites that are just trying to sell you something.

Also, a lot of scientific papers were returned by my search. You may not be able to access the full article (unless you are at a research university), but you should be able to access the abstract, which should give you a good idea of what the research/results were.

Once you've done some research and developed a question or hypothesis, feel free to post back here with more detailed questions.

Hope this helps,
Louise
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decompostition of hair overtime 2

Postby Rosemary » Thu Sep 27, 2007 3:46 pm

I did some more research and found a paper on exactly what i want to do. He studied how hair still attached to cadavers decomposes. Does hair on a hairbrush decompose the same or differently than hair on a corpse? I cant find that on the internet. Im assuming it does, but i dont know how differently. Since I am just starting out in research, I will probably use hair off of a hair brush or one plucked from my head. If I wanted to study how it decomposes in water, air and underground, what special equipment do I need?
Kelly
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Re: decompostition of hair overtime 2

Postby Louise » Thu Sep 27, 2007 5:42 pm

Rosemary wrote:I did some more research and found a paper on exactly what i want to do. He studied how hair still attached to cadavers decomposes. Does hair on a hairbrush decompose the same or differently than hair on a corpse? I cant find that on the internet. Im assuming it does, but i dont know how differently. Since I am just starting out in research, I will probably use hair off of a hair brush or one plucked from my head. If I wanted to study how it decomposes in water, air and underground, what special equipment do I need?


Okay, so how does the guy in the paper do it? It sounds like you should use this as your procedure.


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Postby geoffbruton » Mon Oct 01, 2007 9:48 am

Hi Rosemary,

This sounds like an excellent project! I agree with Louise - in order to determine if the decomposition of hair is comparable to that in the scientific literature (or at least the paper you mentioned), I would attempt to use the same method employed by the researcher(s). What did they do?

Also, I did notice that you discussed the use of hair from a hairbrush and one plucked from your head. I would suggest that you perform multiple tests in order to account for possible variability within each testing regime.

If you haven't had the opportunity to research it yet, try looking up "Forensic Taphonomy" in your library and online - in addition to searching for hair lifespan, growth phases and composition. All of this should help you understand the processes involved, and why there *might* be a difference in the study of loose versus plucked hairs.

Please post back with any more questions, if you have any, and be sure to let us know how your project is going.

Good luck!
Geoff.
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Postby Rosemary » Thu Oct 11, 2007 8:55 pm

I am in highschool and was wondering, for my project, if it is possible for me to obtain human head hair from a dead cadaver.
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Postby Willz » Fri Oct 12, 2007 7:31 pm

Rosemary wrote:I am in highschool and was wondering, for my project, if it is possible for me to obtain human head hair from a dead cadaver.


Hi Rosemary!
This sounds like some really advanced stuff that you're doing! As you are a high school student, I'm not sure if you will be able to obtain cadaver hair at your age, but according to something I found online, it is possible to get cadaver hair: "Interestingly enough, from the FDA’s point of view, the sale of cadaver hair, if it is taking place, isn’t illegal. There are no medical warnings against it and no agency regulations currently forbid it. " However, like I mentioned before, I'm not sure if and where you can get it. Perhaps you should try asking the Anatomy teacher at your school, or a Biology teacher.
-Willz
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Postby MelissaB » Sat Oct 13, 2007 8:15 am

You might not be able to get human cadaver hair, but you might be able to get dead dog or cat fur from a veterinarian's office and compare that with fur from living dogs or cats.
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Postby Yingna » Sat Oct 13, 2007 7:05 pm

I am in highschool and was wondering, for my project, if it is possible for me to obtain human head hair from a dead cadaver.


Hi Rosemary,

This topic sounds very interesting! If you're looking to get hair from a cadaver, I suggest trying to get in contact with the researchers who have conducted research with that kind of hair and see if there's any possibility that you could obtain any. Try contacting the researchers on the paper you have read.

Or, like Melissa wrote, substituting the hair with pet hair might also be good during the first stages.
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Postby wildfirefox » Mon Oct 15, 2007 7:59 am

Here's some suggestions for you for your project:

Cadaver's hair can be obtained through the morgues from your local hospitals and police forensic labs. You have to contact the representatives to get the permission. Since it's for science, they're more than willing to cooperate with you. You can also try the local morticians. As they prep the bodies, some hair get tangled with the equipment, or the decomposing hair will fall off naturally due to weak cellular adhesion in the scalp.

Rather than focusing on human hair, you can also focus on animal hair. Remember, the cellular structure of fur and human hair is similar. Hair and fur are composed of dead cells.
Those who can see that do not exist are geniuses. Those who can see what exists are brilliant. Those cannot see what exists are ignorant.
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Postby Louise » Mon Oct 15, 2007 8:43 am

wildfirefox wrote:Here's some suggestions for you for your project:

Cadaver's hair can be obtained through the morgues from your local hospitals and police forensic labs. You have to contact the representatives to get the permission. Since it's for science, they're more than willing to cooperate with you. You can also try the local morticians. As they prep the bodies, some hair get tangled with the equipment, or the decomposing hair will fall off naturally due to weak cellular adhesion in the scalp.

Rather than focusing on human hair, you can also focus on animal hair. Remember, the cellular structure of fur and human hair is similar. Hair and fur are composed of dead cells.



Just make sure you get this cleared by your teacher and the science fair board. I am also not sure what type of release the source of the hair might have to go through. The hair is not owned by the police or the mortician, but rather the relatives of the decreased person. They may not be interested in helping with your science fair. There are certainly ethical issues with using hair, and you need to make sure you deal with them appropriately. You might also need additional paperwork.

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Postby geoffbruton » Mon Oct 15, 2007 9:47 am

Hi Rosemary,

Just something to add to that already said by others:

I wanted to ask why you wanted hair from a cadaver? What is it that makes you think there will be something different from hair that is much more easily obtained from the living? Were you able to find out any information concerning the stages that hair goes through in the living? Consider that, in a forensic context, hair may be recovered in any and all stages of its growth cycle.

With regards to the acquisition of cadaverous hair and samples from crime labs or Medical Examiners: The hair of the decedent would most likely never be released for use in a science fair project. It is either a) considered as evidence and would therefore be kept virtually indefinitely, or b) would be released along with the rest of the remains to the family of the deceased for burial or cremation.

The study of animal hair would perhaps be analogous to human hair (what have you found concerning differences or similarities?) - but I think you should stick to your original topic. But again, ask yourself why hair from a cadaver would be necessary for this project.

Please let us know what, specifically, you plan on studying, your experimental parameters and your hypothesis.

This sounds like a truly excellent project - and I, for one, can't wait to hear what you find!

Good luck,
Geoff.
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Postby Craig_Bridge » Mon Oct 15, 2007 4:37 pm

There was a period in the 1800's when jewelry was made out of human hair. The hair in this jewelry has NOT decomposed. Bows for violins and other stringed instruments are made from tail hair of horses that are a nearing a couple of hunderd years old.

If you want short lengths of human hair to experiment on, ask a barber shop / hair salon for their floor sweepings. Except for the root area, hair is dead.
-Craig
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Postby Rosemary » Mon Oct 15, 2007 7:15 pm

For my experiment, i am planning on using a dead animal to study the stages of hair decomposition after death while still in the scalp. When the animal dies, i would like to pull a hair and look at the root. I could pull a new hair every couple of hours to see how the hair root has morphed. I need a way to measure or record the hair root. I could use appearance, but that seems kind of subjective. Mass may also work, but it would be very light weight. Do you have any ideas on how to measure the hair root at its different stages?
Kelly
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Postby Rosemary » Mon Oct 15, 2007 7:45 pm

on a side note. i was wondering if i could somehow get Geoff Bruton's email. I cant find it online. thanks
Kelly
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