Charring, fluorescence and image-forming mechanisms. Beware Shroudology’s junk science and flawed logic…

Here’s what photographer- turned- self-styled scientist Barrie Schwortz, President of STERA (the so-called Shroud of Turin Education and Research Association  Inc) wrote back in February this year in attempting to dismiss my scorch mechanism:

 “Every documented scorch on the Shroud fluoresced in the red, as expected. However, the image did NOT fluoresce and in fact, even quenched the background fluorescence in the image areas. The only conclusion possible from these observations is that the Shroud image is NOT the product of scorched or heated linen.”

(See his full comment(s) below, especially those who think he’s a paragon of old world charm)

The ONLY conclusion?

Let’s re-write that as an exercise in logic:

A known scorch mark on the Shroud has a red fluorescence

The Shroud image does not fluoresce

Therefore the Shroud image could not have been formed by scorching.

So by that reckoning we could write the following:

 Someone who has had radiation treatment loses his hair

Fred still has a full head of hair

Therefore Fred has never been exposed to radiation.

Yup, it’s flawed logic in both cases: it fails to distinguish between the effects of light versus  heavy exposure.

The non-fluorescent body image on the Shroud is a pale sepia colour.  It may or may not have been the result of mild scorching (I happen to believe it is a light scorch). But the fluorescent, heavily charred regions on the Shroud are the result the 1532 fire etc. There is no inconsistency whatsoever between these two findings. All that remains to be done is to offer an explanation as to why one fluoresces and the other does not, ensuring that it is a TESTABLE  and potentially FALSIFIABLE explanation, i.e. a SCIENTIFIC explanation.

OK, so here goes. Here is my scientific explanation:

The 1532 fire exposed the linen to high temperatures, ones  that charred i.e. carbonized  the carbohydrates, notably the cellulose. Carbonization of cellulose is known to proceed via intermediates that have aromatic ring systems (see the recent paper by Sevilla and Fuertes, 2009)

Note the aromatic benzenoid ring systems, prime candidates for fluorescence under uv radiation. Reminder: the margins of the heavily-scorched, indeed carbonized, holes in the Shroud linen(1532 fire etc) exhibit a red fluorescence.

Aromatic ring systems with delocalisation of π-bonding p- type electron clouds frequently fluoresce under ultraviolet light.*

However, the temperatures that produced the sepia image on the Shroud were not high enough to  char and carbonize cellulose. Indeed, they may not have been high enough to affect the cellulose at all. They may have affected primarily or exclusively the chemically more susceptible hemicelluloses of the primary cell wall (accounting for the superficiality of the Shroud image).

PS  It’s instructive to read Barrie Schwortz’s  two comments in full.

Quote (1 of 2):

“I think everyone is forgetting an important fact. The idea of the Shroud image being the product of scorches caused by a heated metal statue has been around for a long time (since the STURP days), and was first proposed by Joe Nickel, avowed atheist and Shroud skeptic.

Since the color of the image is very similar to the color of the scorches, STURP understood the need to test this theory and performed specific experiments for that purpose. A primary test was to photograph the Shroud using ultraviolet fluorescence photography, since true scorches on linen will always fluoresce in the red. As there are many documented scorches on the Shroud from the 1532 fire, testing this was not difficult and the results of the tests were published in this peer reviewed reference:

Miller, V.D. and S.F. Pellicori, “Ultraviolet Fluorescence Photography of the Shroud of Turin,” Journal of Biological Photography, Vol. 49, No. 3, 1981, pp. 71-85.

Every documented scorch on the Shroud fluoresced in the red, as expected. However, the image did NOT fluoresce and in fact, even quenched the background fluorescence in the image areas. The only conclusion possible from these observations is that the Shroud image is NOT the product of scorched or heated linen.”

Quote (2 of 2)  He kept the real stinker till last:

Sadly, that’s why I don’t post to blogs very often. I don’t have time to waste debating folks who simply choose to ignore the published science. They obviously have already made up their minds so why bother? Perhaps they have more time on their hands than I do, but I am not interested in arguing for the sake of argument. That is why I never try to convince anyone of anything. Frankly, I don’t really care what this gentleman thinks and will leave him in your and Dan Porter’s able hands.

The article I referred to was published in a highly respected scientific journal. However, due to copyright restrictions, I do not have the right to distribute or publish the article or the UV fluorescence photographs it contains in a public forum. The photographs are all copyrighted to Vern Miller.

However, there is a great Table in the paper that makes the very specific comparisons you have been discussing in this forum, so I highlighted them in yellow and posted a jpeg image of the table to this link:

Perhaps that will be helpful to your skeptic (but I doubt it). Have a great weekend!


Note his preoccupation with copyright issues, even when discussing a crucial scientific point re the Shroud’s authenticity. Has BS, described today as “copyright expert” (oh yes indeed) never heard  of “fair use” waivers–  designed to ensure that copyright is never used to gag genuine disinterested researchers, like this one?

As I said in my last post, what BS did in February was nothing  less than a guerrilla hit-and-run tactic,  deploying what he thought was good STURP science, but which in his hands translated into flawed logic and defective science.

Maybe BS should stick to his photography – jealously guarding and indeed extending that copyright portfolio of his and STERA’s – leaving the disinterested science to us disinterested scientists.

Technical footnote: what a delightful and unexpected mechanism that is for carbonisation of cellulose. Ask anyone how they pictured the process at the molecular level, and I’m willing to bet they would imagine it to be one in which the hydrogen and oxygen are driven off to leave a carbon skeleton. In other words 0ne polymeric matrix – cellulose fibres – gradually transforms into another – charcoal. But as the diagram reveals, that is not the mechanism: cellulose becomes fragmented into small reactive molecules with 5 or 6 membered rings, and the latter then gradually undergo condensation reactions to produce tars and resins, and finally a ‘hydrochar’ particle. Chemistry is full of surprises.

*  The Sevilla and Fuertes paper cited above makes no mention of uv fluorescence – their focus being on possible applications of the carbonaceous microspheres generated by charring. However,  I can cite ample references from elsewhere to the intrinsic fluorescence that is the hallmark of  organic compounds that have aromatic rings in their molecular structure, especially two or more ‘fused’ rings.  Here’s just one example:

“Roughly about 15% of all compounds have a natural fluorescence. The presence of conjugated pi-electrons especially in the aromatic components gives the most intense fluorescent activity. Also, aliphatic and alicyclic compounds with carbonyl groups and compounds with highly conjugated double bonds fluoresce, but usually to a lesser degree. Most unsubstituted aromatic hydrocarbons fluoresce with quantum yield increasing with the number of rings, their degree of condensation and their structural rigidity.”


Experimental strategies?  Proving the presence of aromatic ring structures, and demonstrating a temperature-dependent cause-and-effect relationship is not going to be easy, given the complexity of the pyrolysis sequences. The ideal is a means of physically monitoring the course of events. Nuclear magnetic resonance (nmr) spectroscopy is a possibility, inasmuch as it can detect specific signals from each H atom as its immediate environment alters – and a change from aliphatic to aromatic structure with loss of hydrogen qualifies for that description. There are blunter chemical instruments too. Aliphatic double bonds, e.g. >C=C<  form addition compounds with agents such as bromine, Br2, with both Br atoms forming an addition compound,  i.e. -C (Br) – C (Br) – whereas aromatic compounds prefer substitution reactions, in which a  =C-H bond becomes =C-Br,  the second bromine atom coming off as HBr (hydrobromic acid). So one could in theory monitor an aliphatic to aromatic pathway by taking timed samples, adding bromine, and measuring acidity.

Diagram: summarises the origins of aromaticity in cyclic structures in which there are alternating single and double bonds (which proceed to delocalise via side-side overlap of p-type orbitals to form a thermodynamically more stable smeared-out configuration):

Benzene – the classic (and simplest) example of an aromatic compound.



Late addition: I see that the two Spanish authors whose splendid work on cellulose carbonisation I have cited are based in Oviedo. It’s good to see Oviedo associated with sane science, as distinct from the pseudo-science that is traded in the world of true-believer Shroudology.  Here’s the current offering from Stephen E. Jones, BSc, Grad. Dip. Ed,   on the so-called  ‘Sudarium of Oviedo’. His graphic and caption says it all.  Perfect fit? In your dreams, Mr.Jones…

“Proof beyond reasonable doubt” ?  Ah yes – one of Jones’s favourite expressions – what he calls killing (as distinct from shooting) the fox.    Shame he mistakes foxes for unicorns. There is, needless to say, absolutely NO CORRESPONDENCE whatsoever – but that’s the least of his  problems as far as equating a burial cloth with a face cloth, both supposedly draped over the same part of the anatomy, and presumably competing for quality image time…


About Colin Berry

Retired science bod, previous research interests: phototherapy of neonatal jaundice, membrane influences on microsomal UDP-glucuronyltransferase, defective bilirubin and xenobiotic conjugation and hepatic excretion, dietary fibre and resistant starch.
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3 Responses to Charring, fluorescence and image-forming mechanisms. Beware Shroudology’s junk science and flawed logic…

  1. colinsberry says:

    This comment has just appeared on The Other Site:

    Yannick Clément
    July 30, 2012 at 1:02 pm | #2

    “… The bloodstains on the cloth are a huge PROOF that the Shroud is not some kind of artistic forgery… In that regard, the body image cannot be a scorch, unless you believe that the resurrection could have caused a light scorch on the top-most fibers of the cloth. If that’s an hypothesis you think is possible, then it would fit into the scenario #4 I describe in my article. But because scorched linen normally caused a fluorescence visible on UV fluorescence photos, the body image on the Shroud don’t react like a scorch, so I think it’s fair to say that this hypothesis is highly unlikely (to say the least)…”

    There are two entirely different points made there, both of which I shall address briefly. Yannick persists in referring to “bloodstains” as indeed do most commentators (and I’m guilty of it myself, but for different reasons – I usually enclose it in quotation marks, but don’t like to overdo it). But the chief STURP authority on ‘bloodstains’ (Alan D.Adler) found there were no blood cells visible, no potassium worth speaking of, and even an anomalous porphyrin spectrum. His response: to claim that what we see is not whole blood, but a serum exudate from blood clots (and the atypical spectrum was attributed to a novel, some might say fanciful complex with bilirubin). So why claim that the bloodstains PROVE the authenticity of the Shroud when even STURP failed to find whole blood, but instead a highly depleted fraction thereof that might be described as serum with some scanty products of haemolysed red blood cells? One cannot base a major argument for authenticity on blood when what is present is apparently not whole blood but a fraction thereof, whose presence depends on a series of hypothesised steps that release some components but allegedly hold back others. Sorry, Yannick, but you do not appear to understand the difference between fact and theory. You do not understand the rigour that is needed when framing a scientific argument. You do not understand that science works more often by disproving rather than proving.

    As for the fluorescence argument, you are repeating the same old mantra – that if the Shroud image were the product of scorching, then it should show the same fluorescence as the blackened charred margins of the 1532 burn holes. That is faulty logic, and can also be shot down in chemical terms (read this posting, if you have not already done so, with its references to high-temperature pyrolytic products, notably those with aromatic ring systems, that are fluorescent but NOT likely to be formed at lower temperatures, ones that merely produce a faint sepia-coloured scorch – recalling that the Shroud body image can be described as, wait for it, a faint sepia-coloured scorch).

  2. colinsberry says:

    Here’s a comment from Carlos on The Other Site, using a Google translate from his Spanish first:

    July 30, 2012 at 9:26 pm | #5

    “Colin Berry has evolved, began burning the fabric with hot metal plates and now, shortly thereafter, maintained the hypothesis of light burn.Ha, ha, ha, ha.
    Colin end up being a defender of the authenticity of the Shroud!
    I’m at that point, the light burn, according to Colin Berry.
    Be very careful with the use of words, associating the word burn (SCORCH) HIGH TEMPERATURE only a source of ERROR.
    A burn is an oxidation-dehydration and oxidation-dehydration there produced by HEAT (high temperature), oxidation-dehydration from COLD (low temperature), oxidation-dehydration by a chemical CHEMISTRY (without reference to temperature) likely …….. and other ways.
    Lazzaro di obtains oxidation-dehydration of the fibril flax ultraviolet light apparently without appreciable increase in temperature… ”

    In Spanish: “Colin Berry ha ido EVOLUCIONANDO, empezó quemando las telas con planchas de metal caliente y ahora, poco tiempo después, mantiene la hipótesis de la quemadura por LUZ. ¡ ja, ja, ja, ja !.
    ¡Colin terminará siendo defensor de la autenticidad de la Sábana!
    Estoy en ese punto, la quemadura por LUZ, de acuerdo con Colin Berry.
    Hay que tener mucho cuidado con la utilización de las palabras, asociar la palabra quemadura (SCORCH) sólo con ALTA TEMPERATURA es una fuente de ERROR.
    Una quemadura es una oxidación-deshidratación y existe la oxidación- deshidratación producida por CALOR (alta temperatura), la oxidación-deshidratación producida por FRIO (baja temperatura), la oxidación-deshidratación por una sustancia química QUÍMICA ( sin tener relación con la temperatura)……..y otras probables maneras.
    Di Lazzaro obtiene la oxidación-deshidratación de la fibrilla del lino mediante luz ultravioleta al parecer sin aumento apreciable de la temperatura”

    Reply: I don’t recall if I have made any distinction between a light scorch and a heavy one, Carlos. But rest assured that when attempting to model the Shroud body image I prefer a light sepia-coloured scorch to a heavy red-brown one. OK, so some of my photographs show the latter, like those on my banner above, but that’s simply to display an image with more impact.

    You mention Di Lazzaro. I criticized him recently for some experiments he reported using hot coins to scorch, which he said would never reproduce the superficial image of the Shroud. My answer: well yes, if you operate at 230 degrees C, then you have arbitrarily chosen a temperature that guarantees pyrolysis of cellulose. I then stated what should have been obvious: use lower temperatures, ones that have little or no effect on cellulose, but which would pyrolyse the chemically more reactive hemicelluloses of the primary cell wall. That way you can achieve a highly superficial image. In fact, with careful control of temperature (and maybe time and contact pressure as well) one can get an image that is as faint and as superficial as one wishes. I’m afraid that coin experiment of Di Lazzaro’s did nothing to repair his reputation in my eyes after those OTT experiments of his late last year with the uv excimer laser beams, based on entirely fallacious grounds, i.e. that plain old thermal energy (conducted heat) must invariably result in excessive scorching. I repeat: one can make a scorch as light or as heavy as one wishes – that should be plain commonsense (a quality that our Dr. Di Lazzaro appears to be lacking).

    Forgive my plain-speaking – but you too should try not to trivialize or misrepresent other people’s experimental approaches. I have shown serial thermal imprints from horse brasses as they cool down, showing how the image intensity fades progressively almost to nothing. I would not expect the faintest images to fluoresce under uv light, given they are unlikely to have proceeded to the later aromatic compound stage that one gets with higher temperatures and greater charring.

  3. Pingback: Is Fluorescence Still in Question? | Shroud of Turin Blog

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