Identification of volatile chemical signatures from plastic explosives by SPME-GC/MS and detection by ion mobility spectrometry

Anal Bioanal Chem. 2010 Apr;396(8):2997-3007. doi: 10.1007/s00216-010-3501-6. Epub 2010 Mar 13.


This study demonstrates the use of solid-phase microextraction (SPME) to extract and pre-concentrate volatile signatures from static air above plastic explosive samples followed by detection using ion mobility spectrometry (IMS) optimized to detect the volatile, non-energetic components rather than the energetic materials. Currently, sample collection for detection by commercial IMS analyzers is conducted through swiping of suspected surfaces for explosive particles and vapor sampling. The first method is not suitable for sampling inside large volume areas, and the latter method is not effective because the low vapor pressure of some explosives such as RDX and PETN make them not readily available in the air for headspace sampling under ambient conditions. For the first time, headspace sampling and detection of Detasheet, Semtex H, and C-4 is reported using SPME-IMS operating under one universal setting with limits of detection ranging from 1.5 to 2.5 ng for the target volatile signatures. The target signature compounds n-butyl acetate and the taggant DMNB are associated with untagged and tagged Detasheet explosives, respectively. Cyclohexanone and DMNB are associated with tagged C-4 explosives. DMNB is associated with tagged Semtex H explosives. Within 10 to 60 s of sampling, the headspace inside a glass vial containing 1 g of explosive, more than 20 ng of the target signatures can be extracted by the SPME fiber followed by IMS detection.