NIST Researcher's Kit Recovers Trace Chemicals

If it can be successfully commercialized by industry, detectives, field inspectors, and others could carry with them a convenient version of NIST's "headspace analysis" technique that identifies solid or liquid compounds based on the makeup of vapors released into the air.

Tom Bruno, a chemist working at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, has come up with a portable kit that can be used to recover trace chemicals such as environmental pollutants and forensic evidence, "including secret graves and arson fire debris," NIST's Laura Ost reported Jan. 7. She added that if his kit can be successfully commercialized by industry, detectives, field inspectors, and others could carry with them a convenient version of NIST's "headspace analysis" technique that identifies solid or liquid compounds based on the makeup of vapors released into the air.

The technique involved is PLOT-cryoadsorption -- short for porous layer open tubular cryogenic adsorption, Ost explained. "PLOT-cryo is sensitive, quantitative and more broadly useful than many competing techniques. It can identify compounds that don't readily evaporate and is not limited to samples dissolved in water, for example. The method recovers vapors by suction or by sweeping a gas across the air above a sample of interest. The laboratory version of the technique has been used to find traces of explosives, spoiled food, residues in arson debris and gravesoil," she added.

Companies interested in commercialization are asked to contact the NIST Technology Partnerships Office at nisttech@nist.gov.

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