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Open port sampling interface mass spectrometry of wipe-based explosives, oxidizers, and narcotics for trace contraband detection



Thomas P. Forbes, Jeffrey Lawrence, Changtong Hao, J Greg Gillen


Rapid screening for chemical traces of explosives and narcotics is widely used to support homeland security and law enforcement. These target compounds span a range of physicochemical properties from organic to inorganic, with preferential ionization pathways in both negative and positive mode operation. Nonvolatile inorganic oxidizers present in homemade fuel-oxidizer mixtures, pyrotechnics, and propellants create a unique challenge to traditional thermal desorption-based technologies. Developments in solid–liquid extraction techniques, specifically, open port sampling interface mass spectrometry (OPSI-MS) provide compelling capabilities to address these hurdles. In this proof of concept study, we investigated the trace detection of wipe-based (i.e., common swipe sampling collection method) explosives, oxidizers, and narcotics using an OPSI source and compact single quadrupole mass analyzer. The liquid dissolution and extraction capabilities of OPSI enabled detection of both traditional military-grade explosives and homemade explosive oxidizers. OPSI-MS sensitivities to a series of seven target compounds from polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) coated fiberglass sampling wipes were on the order of several nanograms to sub-nanogram levels. Comparisons with direct solution-based sample analysis enabled quantification of wipe-based sample extraction effects. The system demonstrated quick temporal responses, polarity switching capabilities, and rapid signal decay with minimal carryover, all critical to high throughput screening applications. Coupling traditional swipe sampling with OPSI-MS offers a promising tool for contraband screening applications.
Analytical Methods


Trace detection, Open port sampling interface, Mass spectrometry, Explosives, Narcotics


Forbes, T. , Lawrence, J. , Hao, C. and Gillen, J. (2021), Open port sampling interface mass spectrometry of wipe-based explosives, oxidizers, and narcotics for trace contraband detection, Analytical Methods, [online],, (Accessed April 19, 2024)
Created July 19, 2021, Updated November 29, 2022