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DART-MS Spectral Similarity of Infrared Thermally Desorbed Solid Particulate and Solution Cast Propellant Samples



Thomas Forbes, John Gillen


Security and forensic applications employ test and reference materials to develop, calibrate, and validate analytical instrumentation such as mass spectrometry for the trace detection and chemical analysis of target analytes. An emerging class of target analytes includes homemade fuel oxidizer explosives based on pyrotechnics, propellants, and powder mixtures. Test materials for these compounds must appropriately and accurately embody the physical and chemical nature of the threat. Precision liquid deposition methods have long been employed for creation of trace level test materials. Mass spectral similarity and chemical signature differences between solid particulate and solution cast (i.e., liquid deposited) propellant samples were investigated by infrared thermal desorption direct analysis in real time mass spectrometry (IRTD-DART-MS). Differences in the mass spectra and ion distributions of solid and liquid deposited black powders and black powder substitutes were observed. These differences were attributed to chemical processes (e.g., degradation) and physical differences in the crystal formation, spatial distribution, morphology, and size. The production and deposition of test and reference materials remain critical to developing new technologies and detecting evolving threats.
Journal of the American Society for Mass Spectrometry


Propellants, Black powders, Black powder substitutes, Mass spectral similarity, Test materials, Homemade explosives, Security, Forensic science


Forbes, T. and Gillen, J. (2021), DART-MS Spectral Similarity of Infrared Thermally Desorbed Solid Particulate and Solution Cast Propellant Samples, Journal of the American Society for Mass Spectrometry, [online],, (Accessed June 20, 2024)


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Created March 4, 2021, Updated May 3, 2021