2011-07 AIR: Criminal Investigator on Lint

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Quelle: Annals of Improbable Research, 15 (July/August 2011): 2-3

Criminal Investigator on Lint

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Lint balls from navels (navel fluff, belly button fluff) won an Ig Nobel Prize in 2002 for Karl Kruszelnicki. Dr. Kruszelnicki worked on observations reported in a survey of 4799 lint-collecting people, rather than on tons (I use that word here metaphorically) of individual balls from a single person.

File-Lint ball 1 benecke PB189860.JPG
File-Lint ball 2 benecke PB189861.JPG
File-Lint ball 3 benecke PB189867.JPG
File-Lint ball 4 benecke PB189874.JPG
File-Lint ball 5 benecke PB189879.JPG
File-Lint ball 6 benecke PB189883.JPG

I am a forensic investigator, with a new (to me, I mean) interest in lint. I mentioned this during a radio program. A few weeks later, a young couple (Elisabeth and Jan from Dresden) approached me after a public lecture and handed me a full collection of lint balls collected exclusively from their own navels. This allowed me to examine 167 lint balls from two persons instead of many different lint balls from a large number of people.

As a certified expert in biological stains from crime scenes, I checked the lint balls for some basic parameters that are genereally of interest to crime scene investigators. (These were aspects not checked by Dr. Karl and the other navel lint researchers of whom I am aware.)

I took some photos, and notices some things that have not (as far as I know) been reported:

  • The balls had a very unexpected, inherent beauty - the closer one looks, the more interesting they become.
  • Even balls that seemed to be composed clearly of one color tone (green, red, violet) were in reality composed of many colors.
  • The weight of our lint balls is much below the typical mass reported by Steinhauser ("The Nature of Navel Fluss", Medical Hypotheses, vol. 72, 2009, pp. 623-5). Steinhauser found that the "most abundant individual mass of a piece of lint was found to be between 1.20 and 1.29 mg. However, due to several much larger pieces, the average mass was 1.82 mg in this three year study." This difference might be due to the fact that cotton wool is rapidly losing its standing in clothing items chosen by younger people, so that lighter fibers (polyester, notably) may cause the reduction in lint ball weight. It may also be correlated to the depth of the navel, or to washing the clothes and/or the navel more often.
  • Single lint balls in a mass can be distinguished under a dissection microscope, but not under an SEM. For criminalistic purposes, it is therefore better to use low magnification and a sleeves-up techniques instead of the high power techniques used before.

I hope other scientists will join me in exploring this rich vein of potential knowledge.

Mark Benecke
Benecke Forensic Biology
Cologne, Germany

P.S.: Mean weight of the lint balls in our case was 0.66 milligrams -- half the weight that was formerly measured. For possible reasons, see above.

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Further Reading

Dr. rer. medic. Mark Benecke · Diplombiologe (verliehen in Deutschland) · Öffentlich bestellter und vereidigter Sachverständiger für kriminaltechnische Sicherung, Untersuchung u. Auswertung von biologischen Spuren (IHK Köln) · Landsberg-Str. 16, 50678 Köln, Deutschland, E-Mail: forensic@benecke.com · www.benecke.com · Umsatzsteueridentifikationsnummer: ID: DE212749258 · Aufsichtsbehörde: Industrie- und Handelskammer zu Köln, Unter Sachsenhausen 10-26, 50667 Köln, Deutschland · Fallbearbeitung und Termine nur auf echtem Papier. Absprachen per E-mail sind nur vorläufige Gedanken und nicht bindend. 🗺 Dr. Mark Benecke, M. Sc., Ph.D. · Certified & Sworn In Forensic Biologist · International Forensic Research & Consulting · Postfach 250411 · 50520 Cologne · Germany · Text SMS in criminalistic emergencies (never call me): + · Anonymous calls & suppressed numbers will never be answered. · Dies ist eine Notfall-Nummer für SMS in aktuellen, kriminalistischen Notfällen). · Rufen Sie niemals an. · If it is not an actual emergency, send an e-mail. · If it is an actual emergency, send a text message (SMS) · Never call. · Facebook Fan Site · Benecke Homepage · Instagram Fan Page · Datenschutz-Erklärung · Impressum · Archive Page · Kein Kontakt über soziale Netzwerke. · Never contact me via social networks since I never read messages & comments there.