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Corn Starch

Corn Starch

This is a cluster of corn starch grains viewed with crossed linear polarized light and a red plate compensator. The quadrants evident without the compensator plate change to either yellow or blue. For starch grains the blue is always in the upper right and the lower left (Cartesian Quadrants 1 and 3). The upper left and lower right turn yellow (Cartesian Quadrants 2 and 4). The structures around the pores in wood that look similar to starch grains in crossed polarized light will turn blue in the upper left and lower right (Cartesian Quadrants 2 and 4) and yellow in the upper right and lower left, the opposite of a starch grain.

Transmitted Crossed Polarized Light with a Red Plate Compensator


Corn starch is derived from Zea mays. it is by far the most common starch grain encountered in the indoor environment. It is used in paper sizing, coating plastics, coating candy, as a body powder, as a carrier for fragrances and pesticides, as an extender in coatings and paints, a mold-release in formed polymer manufacture, and many other uses.

Starch grains are are a means for plants to store energy. They are produced by a wide variety of plants and are a mixture of alpha-amylose and amylopectin. Starch grain differ in their size, their shape, and the structure of the center vacuole. Many of these differences are useful for the identification of the plant of origin for the starch grain.

Significance in the Environment:

Starch is common in the indoor environment. It is widely used as a body powder, a carrier for fragrances, for insecticides, for mold-release, and many other applications. Surgical gloves must be free of rice starch because rice starch inside the body cavity can cause infection. Corn starch in the same body cavity has no effect.

Characteristic Features:

Corn starch tends to be polyhedral to subspherical in shape and generally 10 to 20 micrometers in diameter. The center vacuole may be spherical but is generally an elongated scar with pointed ends. It may have from 2 to 5 points forming a slit or star-like structure.

Associated Particles:

If corn starch is found with significant amounts of dog dander it may indicate the presence of an insecticide. People in the locality should be questioned about the use of flea powders or powdered fresheners. When used as a body powder it is often associated with other cosmetic particles. When it is a food residue then other food particles are generally present and some cooked starch may be associated with the particles. When it is from a manufacturing process there are generally other residues from that process present. When it is from paper sizing there are generally ink or toner particles and significant amounts of paper fiber present.

Martin, E.A., Dictionary of Life Sciences, 2nd ed., Pica Press
Brady, George S. and Henry R. Clauser (eds), MATERIALS HANDBOOK, 11th Edition, McGraw-Hill, pp.748-752, 1979