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Rapid Detection of Sugar Alcohol Precursors and Corresponding Nitrate Ester Explosives using Direct Analysis in Real Time Mass Spectrometry



Edward R. Sisco, Thomas P. Forbes


This work highlights the rapid detection of nitrate ester explosives and their sugar alcohol precursors by direct analysis in real time mass spectrometry (DART-MS) using an off-axis geometry. Demonstration of the effect of various parameters, such as ion polarity and in-source collision induced dissociation (CID) on the detection of these compounds is presented. Sensitivity of sugar alcohols and nitrate ester explosives was found to be greatest in negative mode with limits of detection ranging from hundreds of picograms to hundreds of nanograms, depending on the characteristics of the particular molecule. Altering the in-source CID potential allowed for acquisition of characteristic molecular ion spectra as well as fragmentation spectra. Additional studies were completed to identify the role of different experimental parameters on the sensitivity for these compounds. Variables that were examined included the DART gas stream temperature, the presence of a related compound (i.e. the effect of a precursor on the detection of a nitrate ester explosive), incorporation of dopant species, and the role of the analysis surface. It was determined that each of these variables played a significant role in the detection of both sugar alcohols and the corresponding nitrate ester explosives. From this work, a rapid and sensitive method for the detection of individual sugar alcohols and corresponding nitrate ester explosives, or mixtures of the two, has been developed, providing a useful tool in the real-world identification of homemade explosives.


Explosives, Sugar Alcohols, Mass Spectrometry, Forensics
Created March 30, 2015, Updated November 10, 2018