New Method for Trace Detection of Explosives from Fingerprints Uses Nanoextraction and Open Air Analysis

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Patricia Corkum, Marketing Manager
978-536-2273 • •

February 19, 2015, Peabody, MA — With the increased frequency in the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), there is a growing need for crime scene investigators to rapidly detect minute traces of explosive materials as well as link the devices to a person of interest. Whenever a latent fingerprint is found at the scene, most analytical techniques would involve use of a swab to take a sample, destroying the fingerprint in the process, however. 

A new non-destructive method permits the detection of very small quantities of explosives without damaging valuable evidence. The method analyzes particles less than 20 microns in size extracted from a fingerprint by using a combination of nanoextraction and an optical microscope. These trace particles were then analyzed directly with the open-air, non-destructive AccuTOF-DART® time-of-flight mass spectrometer. 

The technique is described in a new paper written by Clemons, K., J. Dake, et al. (U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Laboratory) “Trace analysis of energetic materials via direct analyte-probed nanoextraction coupled to direct analysis in real time mass spectrometry.” Forensic Science International 231(1): 98-101.

‘”This new nanoextraction technique is very exciting because it allows very high precision analysis without destroying the fingerprint in any way,” said Dr. Chip Cody of JEOL USA, who developed the unique capabilities of the first commercially-available open air mass spectrometer, DART®. “I’m impressed with the detection limits of 300 attograms the authors attained.

The JEOL AccuTOF-DART revolutionized mass spectrometry for direct analysis in real time without altering the sample in any way. Now being able to target specific particles for analysis is making the forensic scientist’s work ever more precise. This same nanoextraction approach could also be used for other analytical techniques, including imaging with the Scanning Electron Microscope.
Copies of the paper are available through JEOL USA by contacting For more information on AccuTOF-DART, visit

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JEOL is a world leader in electron optical equipment and instrumentation for high-end scientific and industrial research and development. Core product groups include electron microscopes (SEMs and TEMs), instruments for the semiconductor industry (electron beam lithography and a series of defect review and inspection tools), and analytical instruments including mass spectrometers, NMRs and ESRs.

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