Fingerprint formation

Michael Kücken, Alan C. Newell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

153 Scopus citations


Fingerprints (epidermal ridges) have been used as a means of identifications for more than 2000 years. They have also been extensively studied scientifically by anthropologists and biologists. However, despite all the empirical and experimental knowledge, no widely accepted explanation for the development of epidermal ridges on fingers, palms and soles has yet emerged. In this article we argue that fingerprint patterns are created as the result of a buckling instability in the basal cell layer of the fetal epidermis. Analysis of the well-known von Karman equations informs us that the buckling direction is perpendicular to the direction of greatest stress in the basal layer. We propose that this stress is induced by resistance of furrows and creases to the differential growth of the basal layer and regression of the volar pads during the time of ridge formation. These ideas have been tested by computer experiments. The results are in close harmony with observations. Specifically, they are consistent with the well-known observation that the pattern type is related to the geometry of the fingertip surface when fingerprint patterns are formed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)71-83
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Theoretical Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 7 2005


  • Epidermal ridges
  • Fingerprints
  • Mathematical model
  • Morphogenesis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Statistics and Probability
  • Modeling and Simulation
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • Applied Mathematics


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