Purdue University Graduate School
Dissertation_Rael_0421.pdf (5.03 MB)

Advances in gas chromatography, thermolysis, mass spectrometry, and vacuum ultraviolet spectrometry

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posted on 2021-05-11, 15:37 authored by Ashur Scott RaelAshur Scott Rael
In the area of forensic chemistry, improved or new analysis methods are continually being investigated. One common and powerful technique used in forensic chemistry is wall-coated open-tubular column (WCOT) gas chromatography with electron ionization single quadrupole mass spectrometry (GC-MS). Improvements to and effectiveness of alternatives to this instrumental platform were explored in an array of parallel inquiries. The areas studied included the column for the chromatographic separation, the universal detection method employed, and the fragmentation method used to enhance molecular identification.

Superfine-micropacked capillary (SFµPC) columns may provide an alternative to commercial packed GC columns and WCOT GC columns that combines the benefits of the larger sample capacity of packed columns and the benefits of the excellent separation capabilities and mass spectrometry (MS) flow rate compatibility of WCOT columns. SFµPC columns suffer from high inlet pressure requirements and prior reported work has required specialized instrumentation for their use. Fabrication of and chromatography with SFµPC GC columns was successfully achieved with typical GC-MS instrumentation and within the flow rate limit of a MS. Additionally, the use of higher viscosity carrier gasses was demonstrated to reduce the required inlet pressure for SFµPC GC columns.

Recently, a new vacuum ultraviolet spectrometer (VUV) universal detector has been commercialized for GC. The ability of VUV detectors to acquire absorbance spectra from 125 nm to 430 nm poses a potential alternative to MS. As such, GC-VUV provides an exciting potential alternative approach to achieving excellent quantitative and qualitative analysis across a wide range of analytes. The performance of VUV and MS detectors for forensic analysis in terms of quantitative and qualitative analysis was compared. Analysis of alkylbenzenes in ignitable liquids was explored, which can be important evidence from suspected arson fires and are difficult to differentiate with MS. The VUV detector was found to have superior specificity and comparable sensitivity to the MS detector in scan mode.

Addition of thermolysis (Th) as an orthogonal fragmentation pathway provides the opportunity to increase the differences between MS fragmentation patterns. Fragmentation has been widely established to aid in identification of molecules with MS by providing characteristic fragments at characteristic relative abundances. However, molecules with very similar structures do not result in sizable spectral differences in all cases with typical MS fragmentation techniques. A series of Th units were fabricated and integrated into GC-Th-MS instruments. Th-MS was conducted with the thermally labile nitrate esters across a range of instrumentation and thermal conditions.


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

National Institute of Justice

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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

Christoph A. Naumann

Additional Committee Member 4

Robert E. Minto