Original Date: 11/03/1996
Revision Date: 01/18/2007
Best Practice : Mass Spectrometry
Recognized as the world-leader in mass spectrometry, Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) maintains a long history in fundamental and applied mass spectrometry dating back to the 1940s. Mass spectrometry remains one of the most widely-used analytical techniques. Applications include drug testing, crime-lab investigations, oil analysis, environmental studies, pharmaceutical research, and consumer protection. However, mass spectrometry can also be time consuming and expensive. The technology requires expensive, bulky equipment which hinders portability and real-time analysis for field personnel.
ORNL has been improving its mass spectrometry technology by reducing the equipment cost and size, and by automating the analysis capabilities. These improvements promote field usage because the technology will be portable and allow for real-time analysis. Applications for this new technology include characterizing suspects at a crime scene by analyzing fingerprint components; non-invasive testing of individuals for diseases or substance abuse; rapid, accurate analysis of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) at a crime scene; and mobile monitoring of vehicle exhaust emissions.
One unique application for ORNL’s mass spectrometry technology is forensic chemical analysis of fingerprints. The ORNL scientists determined that the compounds on skin surfaces can identify individuals, detect medical conditions, and determine drug dosimetry. The scientists are now developing techniques to identify and measure these compounds for various uses in health and law enforcement. Advanced ion trap mass spectrometry, presently being developed, will provide chemical analysis of latent fingerprints. By identifying and quantifying the compounds on skin surfaces, law enforcement officials will be able to determine personal characteristics of suspects, such as gender and tobacco or cocaine use. Obtaining the target compounds directly from the fingertips would significantly reduce the typical turnaround times (days or weeks) presently needed by laboratories to screen blood and urine samples. In addition, ORNL is studying this process for possible use in non-invasive drug screening and disease diagnosis.
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