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Summary

The Surface and Trace Chemical Analysis Group conducts research across various forensic science disciplines. The overall goal is to address measurement science challenges by: developing fit-for-purpose standards and objective analytical methods and accelerating the development and implementation of next-generation technology to enhance analytical rigor in forensic chemistry. Research is guided by current and future needs of practitioners at the local, state, and federal levels as well as feedback from academia, instrument manufacturers, and other members of the community. Current focus areas include drug analysis, fire debris and explosives, glass, fingerprint chemistry, toxicology, and resources for implementation of DART-MS or other AI-MS techniques.  

Description

Drug Analysis - Opioids and Emerging Threats

The goal of this focus area is to enhance drug detection capabilities through the development of standard methods for the collection, analysis, and interpretation of drug evidence. Many of these efforts focus on synthetic opioids and other novel psychoactive substances (NPSs) because of the unique analytical challenges they present. The projects cover a broad range of needs of end-users in both the field (first responders, law enforcement officers, crime scene technicians, etc.) and in the laboratory.

Photo of Particulate spread during the weighing of drug evidence
Particulate spread during the weighing of drug evidence is visualized and studied using laser light-sheet videography.

Fire Debris and Explosives

The goal of this focus area is to enhance measurement science capabilities and address measurement science challenges present in the analysis of fire debris and explosives.  This includes developing objective approaches to optimize and validate analytical processes.  A major challenge addressed in this area is detection of trace homemade explosive residues. This includes developing a better understanding of how these compounds persist in the environment and methods for collection and preservation.

Colorized SEM image
Scanning electron microscope (SEM) image of a residue sample of homemade explosive potassium chlorate and aluminum chloride.

Glass Analysis

The goal of this focus area is to improve the field of glass evidence analysis by developing new matrix-matched glass standards and by evaluating more objective approaches to evidence interpretation, such as the likelihood ratio. The latter will be accomplished through the development of glass databases that may be used to assign a significance to an association or exclusion in forensic casework. The projects focus on the two elemental analysis techniques (µ-XRF and LA-ICP-MS) that are commonly used by forensic glass analysts.

Photo of broken laminated windshield glass
Top view of broken laminated windshield glass.

Fingerprint Chemistry

The goal of this focus area is to leverage the wealth of chemical information present in fingerprint deposits for novel forensic applications.  This includes understanding the role and presence of both endogenous and exogenous components, the chemical and physical processes that fingerprints undergo, and development of standards to address the needs of traditional fingerprint development.

Fingerprint image
TOF-SIMS ion image of a fingerprint, showing the distribution of palmitic acid (C16H31O2– ion) on a silicon wafer.

Toxicology

Toxicology represents a new focus area for our group.  The goal of this work is to compliment traditional toxicology research with development of measuring tools and platforms necessary for rapid screening of toxicological samples.  This is enabled by leveraging existing expertise in ambient ionization mass spectrometry. 

Photo of blood droplets
Single blood droplets on a substrate, prepared for rapid screening using ambient ionization mass spectrometry.

Development of Methods, Software Tools, and Resources for Forensics Laboratories with DART-MS or other AI-MS Techniques

The goal of this focus area is to assist forensic laboratories in the adoption and implementation of ambient ionization mass spectrometry (AI-MS) techniques, such as DART-MS, by providing the community with a suite of methods, software tools, and resources.  These include databases, mass spectral search tools, analytical methods, and example validation documents.

Direct Analysis in Real Time Mass Spectrometry infogram

 

Postdoctoral Opportunities

Several postdoctoral opportunities are available for forensics related projects through the NIST NRC Postdoctoral Research Associateships Program. These are listed below.

 

Created July 16, 2020, Updated November 23, 2020