Purdue University Graduate School
Dissertation ZRR Final.pdf (6.96 MB)

Advances in Gas Chromatography and Vacuum UV Spectroscopy: Applications to Fire Debris Analysis & Drugs of Abuse

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posted on 2021-01-07, 15:57 authored by Zackery Ray RobersonZackery Ray Roberson
In forensic chemistry, a quicker and more accurate analysis of a sample is always being pursued. Speedy analyses allow the analyst to provide quick turn-around times and potentially decrease back-logs that are known to be a problem in the field. Accurate analyses are paramount with the futures and lives of the accused potentially on the line. One of the most common methods of analysis in forensic chemistry laboratories is gas chromatography, chosen for the relative speed and efficiency afforded by this method. Two major routes were attempted to further improve on gas chromatography applications in forensic chemistry.
The first route was to decrease separation times for analysis of ignitable liquid residues by using micro-bore wall coated open-tubular columns. Micro-bore columns are much shorter and have higher separation efficiencies than the standard columns used in forensic chemistry, allowing for faster analysis times while maintaining the expected peak separation. Typical separation times for fire debris samples are between thirty minutes and one hour, the micro-bore columns were able to achieve equivalent performance in three minutes. The reduction in analysis time was demonstrated by analysis of ignitable liquid residues from simulated fire debris exemplars.
The second route looked at a relatively new detector for gas chromatography known as a vacuum ultraviolet (VUV) spectrophotometer. The VUV detector uses traditional UV and far-ultraviolet light to probe the pi and sigma bonds of the gas phase analytes as well as Rydberg traditions to produce spectra that are nearly unique to a compound. Thus far, the only spectra that were not discernable were from enantiomers, otherwise even diastereomers have been differentiated. The specificity attained with the VUV detector has achieved differentiation of compounds that mass spectrometry, the most common detection method for chromatography in forensic chemistry labs, has difficulty distinguishing. This specificity has been demonstrated herein by analyzing various classes of drugs of abuse and applicability to “real world” samples has been demonstrated by analysis of de-identified seized samples.


Coupling Gas Chromatography (GC) and Vacuum Ultraviolet (VUV) Spectroscopy for Forensic Applications

National Institute of Justice

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Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Chemistry

Campus location

  • Indianapolis

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

John V. Goodpaster

Additional Committee Member 2

Nicholas E. Manicke

Additional Committee Member 3

Sebastien Laulhe

Additional Committee Member 4

Ian K. Webb