Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Official websites use .gov
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS
A lock ( ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Trace Headspace Sampling for Quantitative Analysis of Explosives with Cryoadsorption on Short Alumina PLOT Columns



Tara Lovestead, Thomas J. Bruno


Bombings and the continuous emergence of new and novel explosive compounds necessitate the need for reliable explosive detection devices. Vapor detection methods for sampling and detecting energetic materials or improvised explosive devices (IEDs) are most attractive because they are sensitive, selective, and afford non-invasive, standoff detection. To develop reliable vapor detection devices for energetic materials we need to know (1) what and (2) how much is in the vapor phase above the energetic material or IED. Here, we present a method that both identifies and quantifies components (even trace components of low volatility) above energetic materials. This method is a modified purge and trap approach that makes use of cryoadsoption on short alumina-coated porous layer open tubular (PLOT) columns. To illustrate this method, we performed headspace measurements on practical military and industrial plastic bonded explosives (PBXs) including tagged C-4, Semtex-1A, Semtex-H, detonator cord (detcord) and detonator sheet (Detaflex). Components of the headspace were identified and quantitated as a function of temperature. The data are presented in the form of the van t Hoff equation. The linear relationship of the recovered mass as a function of inverse collection temperature reveals the predictive capabilities of the methodology employed here. Thus, the necessary data for standardization and calibration of current and emerging in-the-field vapor detection devices is possible.
Analytical Chemistry


Cryoadsoroption, detonator cord/sheet, headspace analysis, plastic explosives, purge and trap, Semtex


Lovestead, T. and Bruno, T. (2010), Trace Headspace Sampling for Quantitative Analysis of Explosives with Cryoadsorption on Short Alumina PLOT Columns, Analytical Chemistry, [online], (Accessed May 20, 2024)


If you have any questions about this publication or are having problems accessing it, please contact

Created June 9, 2010, Updated October 12, 2021