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Mass Spectrometry for Forensic Application


Investigation of Up-to-Date Mass Spectrometer Method Сapabilities to Determine Isotopic Ratio of Stable Elements During Criminalistic Examinations on Seized or Withdrawn Materials

Tech Area / Field

  • CHE-ANL/Analytical Chemistry/Chemistry
  • INS-MEA/Measuring Instruments/Instrumentation
  • PHY-ANU/Atomic and Nuclear Physics/Physics

8 Project completed

Registration date

Completion date

Senior Project Manager
Genisaretskaya S V

Leading Institute
All-Russian Scientific Research Institute of Non-Organic Materials named after A. Bochvar, Russia, Moscow


  • Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, USA, CA, Livermore

Project summary

The up-to-date analytical practice allows obtaining unique information on composition and properties of various materials, both of organic and inorganic origin. Some performances of determined components bear the information (fingerprint) on origin and age of material subjected to expert check. Such performances include isotopic ratio of some stable elements present in a sample. The elements isotope composition cannot change during product chemical processing and, therefore, is a reliable "witness" of a product origin. The up-to-date mass spectrometry is capable to register several pro mil isotopic shifts (a thousandth of a measured quantity), that enables using it for identification of seized or withdrawn materials. The isotopic ratio small variations are product characteristic traces that cannot be disguised or distorted. The isotopic shift use to identify seized materials, first of all, relates to isotopes of hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen and oxygen.

The proposed project influence on the progress in this field:

  • Recommendations will be developed on hardware and methodical execution of mass spectrometer method to determine isotopic ratio (MSMDIO) for seized material identification under criminological examinations.
  • A long-term plan will be developed together with ECC (Expert Criminalistic Center) of RF Ministry of Internal Affairs to introduce mass spectrometer method to determine light elements isotopic ratio in examination practice.

The competence of the project participants

“Weapon” participants of the project are experts in development and use of mass spectrometer equipment for isotope analysis of light and heavy elements of the Periodic system. A creative group successfully performed work under other ISTC projects is supposed to involve in the project implementation. The group consists of 1 doctor of science and 7 candidates of science.

Expected results:

As a result of work under the project:

  • Objects will be determined and classified for examination of which it is practical to apply mass spectrometer method to determine stable isotopes ratio.
  • Philosophy will be formulated to use the method to determine stable isotopes ratio for seized materials examination.
  • Expert and calculation work will be performed to determine an optimum scheme of mass spectrometer ion source for work in the field of small mass numbers.
  • The device of water destruction into oxygen and hydrogen will be experimentally checked.
  • The long-term plan will be developed together with ECC of RF Ministry of Internal Affairs to introduce mass spectrometer methods of isotope ratio determination into practice of material examinations.

Scientific importance. Methods will be proposed for use to determine the isotope composition of light elements with the purpose to prove products authenticity (or falsification). The method will also allow determining a raw source and a geographical origin of analyzed products.

Project results application range:

The work results can be practically realized during forensic examinations by law enforcement bodies, methods coordination to obtain an evidential base within international cooperation, use of natural or artificially developed isotopic shift for counterfeit production prevention.

The developed approaches can have a wider application in the technologies related to use of isotope markers.

The scope of work under the project is designed for 1.5 years.

The project realization will demand 2888 man-days including 2088 man-days – "weapon" experts.

Technical approach and methodology:

According to the scientific and technical tasks the project work will envisage:

  • Scientific and technical information acquisition and summarizing.
  • Calculation and modeling to choose a nondiscriminatory ion source scheme.
  • Analysis of existing sample preparation devices for light element isotope analysis.

Role of foreign collaborators: During the project proposal preparation the project basic provisions were discussed with the American National Laboratory scientists and experts who supported the proposal and agreed to become collaborators.

The work performance will envisage the following forms of co-work coordinated with collaborators:

Information interchange on the project performance, joint participation in international conferences, symposiums, sessions of working groups on problems of mass spectrometer determination of stable isotope ratio.