Forensic profiling of smokeless powders (SLPs) by gas chromatography–mass spectrometry (GC-MS: a systematic investigation into injector conditions and their effect on the characterisation of samples

Blake Kesic, Niamh McCann, Samantha L. Bowerbank, Troy Standley, Jana Liechti, John R. Dean, Matteo D. Gallidabino*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Smokeless powders (SLPs) are composed of a combination of thermolabile and non-thermolabile compounds. When analysed by GC-MS, injection conditions may therefore play a fundamental role on the characterisation of forensic samples. However, no systematic investigations have ever been carried out. This casts doubt on the optimal conditions that should be adopted in advanced profiling applications (e.g. class attribution and source association), especially when a traditional split/splitless (S/SL) injector is used. Herein, a study is reported that specifically focused on the evaluation of the liner type (Ltype) and inlet temperature (Tinj). Results showed that both could affect the exhaustiveness and repeatability of the observed chemical profiles, with Ltype being particularly sensitive despite typically not being clarified in published works. Perhaps as expected, degradation effects were observed for the most thermolabile compounds (e.g. nitroglycerin) at conditions maximising the heat transfer rates (Ltype = packed and Tinj ≥ 200 °C). However, these did not seem to be as influential as, perhaps, suggested in previous studies. Indeed, the harshest injection conditions in terms of heat transfer rate (Ltype = packed and Tinj = 260 °C) were found to lead to better performances (including better overall %RSDs and LODs) compared to the mildest ones. This suggested that implementing conditions minimising heat-induced breakdowns during injection was not necessarily a good strategy for comparison purposes. The reported findings represent a concrete step forward in the field, providing a robust body of data for the development of the next generation of SLP profiling methods.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages16
JournalAnalytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry
Early online date9 Feb 2024
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 9 Feb 2024

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