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Preface

Over the years I have been enjoying the delights of CSI, NCIS and similar ‘forensic’ TV shows. Apart
from their blatant tendency to give the ‘mass-spec’ far too much air-time, and treat it like the go to solution
especially in CSI, I have especially been intrigued how the medical examiners are always the point of focus
when some one begs the question of time of death.
Even though I have modelled many lumped capacitance systems, and even simulated them in SIMULINK,
I did not realise the solution to such a problem was a direct application of Newton’s Law of Cooling - as
I simply never gave this question much thought before. In particular, I find the analytic solution of the
first-order ODE quite an elegant solution to this problem, especially since it instantly shows the result is
that of a decaying exponential function - as one would expect it to be.
A computational approach to the solution is easily obtained by solving the ODE by using Euler’s Method.
This task is simply achieved by approximating the derivative with the finite-forward difference, where
f

(x) = lim
h→0
f(x + h) −f(x)
h
, thereby obtaining a recursive computational algorithm.
— Michael de Silva, October 2009
Comments, Criticism, and Contribution
If you have any suggestions or discover errors in this document, write to michael@mwdesilva.com to
help make this document better. Thanks in advance for your contribution.
Contributors will be acknowledged in this document.
Michael M. Wijetunge de Silva
MSc (Dist), BEng (Hons), MIEEE, AMIMechE(UK)
email: michael@mwdesilva.com • blog: bsodmike.com • r´ esum´ e: mwdesilva.com
1 Finding the Time of Death of a John Doe
First-order linear differential equations are widely used by scientists and engineers to solve a variety of
problems involving temperature.
Newton’s Law of Cooling: The rate at which the temperature T(t) changes in a cooling body is
directly proportional to the temperature difference between the body and the constant temperature
T
s
, of the surrounding medium.
Newton’s Law of Cooling is modelled as a first-order initial-value problem,

dT
dt
= k (T −T
s
)
T(0) = T
0
(1)
where T
0
is the initial temperature of the body and k is the constant of proportionality.
If T
s
is constant, by separating variables,

1
T −T
s

dT = k dt (2)
Integrating both sides,

1
T −T
s

dT =

k dt
ln(T −T
s
) = kt + C
T −T
s
= e
kt+C
T(t) = T
s
+ Ce
kt
(3)
Applying the initial condition,
T(0) = T
s
+ Ce
0
→C = T
0
−T
s
(4)
1
Michael M. Wijetunge de Silva
MSc (Dist), BEng (Hons), MIEEE, AMIMechE(UK)
email: michael@mwdesilva.com • blog: bsodmike.com • r´ esum´ e: mwdesilva.com
Hence,
T(t) = T
s
+ (T
0
−T
s
) e
kt
(5)
If k < 0, lim
t→∞
e
kt
= 0. Therefore, lim
t→∞
T(t) = T
s
, and the temperature of the body approaches that
of its surroundings.
Example: At 9 am on October 19, 2009 a body was found in room 327 at the University Center. The
room is kept at a constant temperature of 72

F. The medical examiner was called and he arrived in
eight minutes. The first thing he did was to take the temperature of the body. It was 83

F. Thirty
minutes later the temperature of the body was taken again and it was now 78

F. Help the police by
telling them when the person was murdered.
Solution:
The initial condition is taken such that T
0
= 83 and T
s
= 72 at 9:08 am. Substituting these values into
Equation (5), we obtain T(t) = 72 + (83 −72) e
kt
= 72 + 11e
kt
.
At 09:38 when the medical examiner took the bodies temperature T(30) = 78 and T
s
= 72. Substitution,
once again yields 78 = 72 + (11) e
30k
. Solving for k, the constant of proportionality,
k =
ln

6
11

30
= −0.0202
(6)
Substituting k into Equation (5) yields T(t) = 72 + (11) e
−0.0202t
. This equation will take the form of
exponential decay due to its negative exponent,
Since the medical examiner wishes to know the time of death, a solution for t is found by setting the
temperature of the body at 98.6

F, normal body temperature. Solving 98.6 = 72 + (11) e
−0.0202t
for t,

26.6
11

= e
−0.0202t
→ln

11
26.6

= 0.0202t
t =
ln

11
26.6

0.0202
= −43.7
(7)
Subtracting 43 minutes from 09:08 am gives the time of death as 08:25 am.
2
Integrating the first-order linear differential equation resulted in a linear equation in Equation (3),
ln(T −T
s
) = kt + C (8)
It is clear the above is comparable to y = mx + c. Considering T(0) = T
0
,
ln(98.6 −72) = k(0) + C →C = ln(26.6) (9)
Since T(8) = 83 and T(38) = 78, we obtain two linear equations from Equation (8) where t is number of
minutes between death and 09:08 am and the other is the number of minutes between death and 09:38 am,
(i) ln(11) = kt + ln(26.6) and (ii) ln(6) = k(t + 30) + ln(26.6).
Solving for k with (i),
ln(11) = kt + ln(26.6) →k =

1
t

ln

11
26.6

(10)
Substituting this result,
ln(6) =
¸
1
t

ln

11
26.6

(t + 30) + ln(26.6)
ln(6) = ln

11
26.6

+

30
t

ln

11
26.6

+ ln(26.6)
ln

6
26.6

= ln

11
26.6

+

30
t

ln

11
26.6

ln

¸
¸
¸

6
26.6

11
26.6

= ln

6
11

=

30
t

ln

11
26.6

t =
ln

11
26.6

· 30
ln

6
11
= 43.7
(11)
Confirming the result obtained previously, the time of death is 43 minutes before 09:08 am, hence, 08:25
am.