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Rapid Identification of Smokeless Powders

Smokeless powders are often used in improvised explosive devices. The formulations for smokeless powders vary between manufacturers and between brands from a given manufacturer; ingredients include energetics, stabilizers, plasticizers and deterrents. Both chemical composition and morphology are important in characterizing smokeless powders. Chemical analysis of smokeless powders can provide valuable forensic evidence. Observation with the SEM can reveal morphological information to help with identification. Here we show how SEM-EDS analysis can be used to identify inorganic components, and how the AccuTOF-DART mass spectrometer can rapidly identify the organic components and provide a chemical fingerprint that can be used to identify individual powder particles.

“Laundry Detective”: Identification of a Stain

The AccuTOF-DART™ was recently applied to an unusual analytical problem: finding the cause of oily stains on freshly laundered shirts (Figure 1). No cutting or extraction was required. Stained and unstained regions of the shirt were placed in the DART gas stream and the mass spectra were acquired.  The DART parameters were: helium gas, flow 3-4 LPM, gas heater set to 175 degrees C, positive-ion mode, PEG 600 exact mass reference standard. These conditions did not damage the shirt.

Instantaneous Detection of the “Date-Rape” Drug -- GHB

Gamma hydroxybutyrate (GHB) is a fast-acting central nervous system depressant. Prior to its ban by the FDA in 1990, GHB was sold in bodybuilding formulas. It has been abused as a euphoriant. Because it is colorless and odorless, it can be added to alcoholic drinks of unsuspecting victims. An overdose can result in serious consequences, including respiratory depression and coma. GHB was classified as a Schedule I Controlled Substance in March, 2000. Detection of GHB is problematic. GC/MS and LC/ MS methods are time consuming. A rapid colorimetric assay for GHB has been developed, but this assay suffers from some limitations. For example, ethanol produces the same colorimetric response as GHB. The AccuTOF™ mass spectrometer equipped with Direct Analysis in Real Time (DART™) can rapidly detect GHB anion (C4H7O3 -, m/z 103.0395) on surfaces, in urine, and in ethanol. No solvent extraction, wipes, or chromatography are required. Examples are shown in the figures below.

Instantaneous Detection of Illicit Drugs on Currency

The widespread presence of illicit drugs on currency is an indication of the extent of the worldwide substance abuse problem. Remarkably, cocaine can be found on virtually all one-dollar bills in the United States — the upper limit for the general background level of cocaine is estimated to be 13 ng per bill. The Direct Analysis in Real Time (DART™) ion source, combined with the AccuTOF™ mass spectrometer can be used to sample drugs on currency within seconds. No sample preparation (extraction, wipes, etc.) or chromatography is required. The bill is placed in front of the DART and the presence of drugs can be detected immediately. Only a small portion of the bill is sampled at any given time. This allows the analyst to view the distribution of drugs on the surface of a bill, and allows the bill to be retained for reexamination at a later time.

Fiber analysis by thermal desorption/pyrolysis DART®

Analyzing fiber samples has always been difficult by DART®. The problem has been that there is no easy way to hold the fiber in the gas stream without losing it into the vacuum system. A fiber can be secured in the DART gas stream with forceps or other means, but if the DART gas is too hot, the fiber can break off and be lost into the mass spectrometer vacuum system through the atmospheric pressure interface. A thermal desorption/pyrolysis stage (The Biochromato, Inc. “ionRocket™”) designed for use with DART produces highly reproducible thermal desorption profiles that show outgassing, additives, and high-quality pyrolysis DART mass spectra for materials. Because fiber samples placed in the disposable copper sample “pots” are not positioned directly in the DART gas stream, a single fiber can be analyzed without risk of loss into the vacuum system.

Clandestine Methamphetamine Labs: Rapid Impurity Profiling by AccuTOF-DART™

Methamphetamine is a Schedule II Controlled Substance that is illegally manufactured in clandestine labs. There are several common synthetic pathways in use. For this study, methamphetamine was synthesized from phenyl-2-propanone by the (1) Leukart synthesis or (2) Reductive Amination, or from ephedrine or pseudoephedrine by the (3) Nagai, (4) Birch, and (5) Edme syntheses. Each of these reaction sequences resulted in unique impurity profiles1-3 that can be used by law enforcement to track the activities of clan labs, distribution networks, and trafficking patterns. The AccuTOF-DART was used to examine the starting materials, reaction mixtures, and final products from each reaction scheme.

Analysis of duct tapes by thermal desorption and pyrolysis mass spectrometry and X-ray-fluorescence spectroscopy

The identification of pressure-sensitive tapes such as duct tape and electrical tape is an important forensic application. Here we show the application of thermal desorption and pyrolysis combined with Direct Analysis in Real Time (DART) mass spectrometry to distinguish between manufacturers and brands of duct tapes. X-ray fluorescence (XRF) provides complementary information about the atomic composition of the different tapes.

AccuTOF-DART® Analysis of Smokeless Powders

Smokeless powders (Figure 1) are often used in improvised explosive devices. The formulations for smokeless powders vary between manufacturers and between brands from a given manufacturer; ingredients include energetics, stabilizers, plasticizers and deterrents. Chemical analysis of smokeless powders can provide valuable forensic evidence. Here we show that the AccuTOF-DART mass spectrometer can rapidly identify the organic components in smokeless powders and provide a chemical fingerprint that can be used to identify individual powder particles.

Analytical Instruments Documents

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Corona - Glow Discharge (DART Ion Source)

February 22, 2020
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