Purdue University Graduate School
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Screening and Quantitation of Volatiles from Explosive Initiators and Plastic Bonded Explosives (PBX)

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posted on 2024-06-03, 18:31 authored by Alexis J HeckerAlexis J Hecker

The detection of explosives and explosive devices based upon the volatile compounds they emit is a long-standing tool for law enforcement and physical security. Towards that end, solid-phase microextraction (SPME) combined with gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) has become a crucial analytical tool for the identification of volatiles emitted by explosives. Previous SPME studies have identified many volatile compounds emitted by common explosive formulations that serve as the main charge in explosive devices. However, limited research has been conducted on initiators like fuses, detonating cords, and boosters. In this study, a variety of SPME fiber coatings (i.e., polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS), polydimethylsiloxane/divinylbenzene (PDMS/DVB), divinylbenzene/carboxen/polydimethylsiloxane (DVB/CAR/PDMS), carboxen/polydimethylsiloxane (CAR/PDMS), and polyacrylate (PA)) were employed for the extraction and analysis of volatiles from Composition C-4 (cyclohexanone, 2-ethyl-1-hexanol, and 2,3-dimethyl-2,3-dinitrobutane (DMNB)) and Red Dot double-base smokeless powder (nitroglycerine, phenylamine). The results revealed that a PDMS/DVB fiber was optimal. Then, an assortment of explosive items (i.e., detonation cord, safety fuse, slip-on booster, and shape charge) were analyzed with a PDMS/DVB fiber. A variety of volatile compounds were identified, including plasticizers (tributyl acetyl citrate, N-butylbenzenesulfonamide), taggants (DMNB), and degradation products (2-ethyl-1-hexanol).

Taggants, like DMNB, are one of the pivotal components added to explosives. These distinctive chemical markers, deliberately introduced during manufacturing to facilitate the identification of explosives, are commonly detected using SPME GC- MS, but their quantitation remains underexplored. To address this, we investigated total vaporization headspace (TV- HS) GC- MS for quantifying taggants in the headspace of Composition C4. Factors effecting the extraction of DMNB, such as shape and age of the sample, and surface depletion, were also examined. The results revealed that the shape of the sample did not affect the amount of DMNB in the headspace but the older the sample, the more DMNB was detected in the headspace. Surface depletion was also seen in samples that were exposed to air for more than one week. Then calibration curves with calibrants of DMNB in acetone were established for quantitation. The average concentration of DMNB in the headspace was determined to be 125 parts per million (ppm).


Degree Type

  • Master of Science


  • Forensic and Investigative Sciences

Campus location

  • Indianapolis

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Dr. John V. Goodpaster

Additional Committee Member 2

Dr. Nick Manicke

Additional Committee Member 3

Dr. Christina Beymer