Improved sampling, pre-concentration, and detection of hidden explosives and illicit drugs by a novel solid phase microextraction geometry coupled to ion mobility spectrometry

Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor's Name

Jose Almirall

First Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Chair

Second Advisor's Name

Wenzhi Li

Third Advisor's Name

John Landrum

Fourth Advisor's Name

Kenneth Furton

Fifth Advisor's Name

Yong Cai

Date of Defense



The 9/11 Act mandates the inspection of 100 % of cargo shipments entering the U.S by 2012 and 100 % inspection of air cargo by March 2010. So far, only 5% of inbound shipping containers are inspected thoroughly while air cargo inspections have fared better at 50 %. Government officials have admitted that these milestones cannot be met since the appropriate technology does not exist. This research presents a novel planar solid phase microextraction (PSPME) device with enhanced surface area and capacity for collection of the volatile chemical signatures in air that are emitted from illicit compounds for direct introduction into ion mobility spectrometers (IMS) for detection. These IMS detectors are widely used to detect particles of illicit substances and do not have to be adapted specifically to this technology. For static extractions, PDMS and sol-gel PDMS PSPME devices provide significant increases in sensitivity over conventional fiber SPME. Results show a 50-400 times increase in mass detected of piperonal and a 2- 4 times increase for TNT. In a blind study of 6 cases suspected to contain varying amounts of MDMA, PSPME-IMS correctly detected 5 positive cases with no false positives or negatives. One of these cases had minimal amounts of MDMA resulting in a false negative response for fiber SPME-IMS. A La (dihed) phase chemistry has shown an increase in the extraction efficiency of TNT and 2,4-DNT and enhanced retention over time. An alternative PSPME device was also developed for the rapid (seconds) dynamic sampling and preconcentration of large volumes of air for direct thermal desorption into an IMS. This device affords high extraction efficiencies due to strong retention properties under ambient conditions resulting in ppt detection limits when 3.5 L of air are sampled over the course of 10 seconds. Dynamic PSPME was used to sample the headspace over the following: MDMA tablets (12-40 ng detected of piperonal), high explosives (Pentolite) (0.6 ng detected of TNT), and several smokeless powders (26-35 ng of 2,4- DNT and 11-74 ng DPA detected). PSPME-IMS technology is flexible to end-user needs, is low-cost, rapid, sensitive, easy to use, easy to implement, and effective.



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