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High-Precision Isotopic Analysis

microscopic picture of blood

Applications > Forensics

Energy | Environmental | Pharmaceutical | Ecology | Food Adulteration

Many of the same naturally occurring isotopic patterns observed in ecology applications can also be useful to the field of forensics. Often, natural materials have very distinct isotopic signatures based on their origins. As a result, it may be possible to ascertain the source of a material based on its isotopic signature.

Likewise, it is possible to identify a distinct isotopic signature by looking at multiple isotope values of a particular material such as narcotics. (i.e. C, N, H, O, S) The unique combination may help to identify or differentiate between two otherwise identical materials. Uses of Isotope Ratio Mass Spectrometry (IRMS) for forensic applications include:

Characterization of cellulose using hydrogen (2H/1H, or δD) and oxygen (18O/16O, or δ18O) to determine the origin of counterfeit money.
Characterization of various materials such as tires, cigarette filters, fleece, packaging tapes, sawdust, human blood, hair, paint, varnish, microorganisms etc. for evidence in criminal cases.
Analysis of narcotics including heroin, cocaine, cannabis, steroids, and other illicit samples for origin and/or manufacturing source.
Crude oil, refined products, and additives characterization for spills, migration, source, and weathering.
Explosives and residue characterization for identification of source of manufacturer.

Suggested Readings
S. Benson, C. Lennard, P. Maynard, and C. Roux, "Forensic Applications of Isotope Ratio Mass Spectrometry: A Review," Forensic Science International, Volume 157, 2006, Pages 1-22.

J.R. Ehleringer, D.A. Cooper, M. J. Lott, and C.S. Cook, "Geo-location of Heroin and Cocaine by Stable Isotope Ratios," Forensic Science International, Volume 106, 1999, Pages 27-35.

S. A. Phillips, S. Doyle, L. Philp, and M. Coleman, "Proceedings: Network Developing Forensic Applications of Stable Isotope Ratio Mass Spectrometry Conference 2002" in Sci. Justice, Volume 43 (3), 2003, Pages 153-160.

N.L. Farmer, W. Meier-Augenstein, and R.M. Kalin, "Stable Isotope Analysis of Safety Matches Using Isotope Ratio Mass Spectrometry: A Forensic Case Study" in Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry, Volume 19, 2005, Pages 3182-3186.

Isotopic Fingerprinting of Solids and Liquids (PDF)

Information on organic solids and liquids analysis



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