Fabrics are one variant of polymers, macromolecules that form the foundation of our society. They consist of small subunits called monomers, which are covalently bonded together and layered over each other through intermolecular attractions. There are natural fabrics, such as cotton and silk, and synthetic fabrics like polyester and rayon. Scientists in forensic taphonomy study postmortem changes made to human remains, which can also include clothes found at the scene. In this study, the degradation rates of four white fabrics (cotton, polyester, rayon, and silk) were observed in various aqueous environments (pure, chlorinated, sea, and lake) in order to observe the differences in natural and synthetic fibers as well as to create a timeline that could be used in forensic analysis. The properties of polymers depend widely upon their structures; therefore, the fabrics were analyzed using infrared (IR) spectroscopy and any visual differences were noted. Pure, deionized water was used as a control, and each fabric was placed in each tank. Approximately 3 cm x 3 cm samples were removed from the tanks each week for 10 weeks, and one last set of samples was collected five weeks later. The IR data collected for each fabric did not show any signs of degradation. Almost all of the same absorbances were found at similar wavelengths for every set of IR data. Visually, the silk in the chlorinated tank yellowed over time while the other fabrics did not display any distinct color changes. Therefore, silk was the only fabric to actually undergo any form of degradation. Since there was no pattern of deterioration, the data could not be used to establish a timeline of degradation. Any future research would require placing the fabrics in the tanks for a longer period of time so that they actually have a sufficient amount of time to degrade before testing.
Dr. Alison Parker
Bryant, Jaylin, "Degradation of Natural and Synthetic Fibers in Various Aqueous Environments" (2021). Honors Theses. 39.