Washington, D.C.: 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".
If successfully commercialized by industry, the briefcase-sized kit could enable detectives, field inspectors and others to carry with them a convenient version of NIST's "headspace analysis" technique, which identifies solid or liquid compounds based on the makeup of vapors released into nearby air.
The underlying technique is PLOT-cryoadsorption or PLOT-cryo-short for porous layer open tubular cryogenic adsorption. 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 grave-soil.
The study has been published in Journal of Chromatography A.