National Center for Forensic Science


There are two separate examinations performed in the forensic analysis of explosives: identification and/or characterization of the intact explosives and examination of explosive debris.  Examiners will analyze intact explosives and residues as well as intact or fragmented device components.  The overall objective of forensic explosives examination is the identification of any explosives present.  If intact explosive particles are found, the type of explosive, producer, and brand name may be identified.  In contrast, trace residues of explosives may be analyzed and classified, but are difficult to identify.  Variables such as ambient temperature, weather conditions, and temperature and pressure at the time of explosion all complicate the forensic analytical process.

Reference: Forensic Science Handbook, Volume I, 2nd Edition, edited by Saferstein, R. (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2002).

NCFS research:

1.Examination of  methods for the analysis of tri acetone tri peroxide (TATP) by various mass  spectrometry methods.

2.Determination of synthetic route and source material identification  from trace impurity analysis of TATP samples.

3.Analysis of oxidizer salt mixtures by electrospray ionization – mass spectrometry (ESI-MS).

4.The Smokeless Powders Database has been developed by the National Center for  Forensic Science in collaboration with the Technical/Scientific Working Group for Fire and  Explosives (T/SWGFEX).  The Smokeless  Powders Database consists of product information, physical description and  measurements, and identification of the chemical components of smokeless  powders.

5.The technique of two dimensional correlation mass spectrometry  (2D-CMS) based on collision induced decomposition energy and resonance  excitation time perturbations has been applied to the analysis of fragmentation  pathways for explosives and explosives-related compounds in an ion trap mass  spectrometer.

6.NCFS, in collaboration with the Townes  Laser Institute and Center for Research  and Education in Optics and Lasers (CREOL) has investigated the use of Laser  Induces Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS) for the analysis of organic residues,  including explosives.  Emphasis is on the chemometric approaches, standoff detection and plasma fundamentals.

For more information contact Dr. Michael Sigman.