Whipping those white powders

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  • Published: Jan 9, 2015
  • Author: Steve Down
  • Channels: Proteomics / Atomic / Infrared Spectroscopy / Chemometrics & Informatics / Base Peak / NMR Knowledge Base / X-ray Spectrometry / MRI Spectroscopy / Raman / UV/Vis Spectroscopy

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Suspicious dry white powders that might be harmful biological organisms can be recognised by fluorescence spectroscopy using an unusual combination of three excitation wavelengths.

This novel technique, introduced by Polish scientists in Forensic Science International, followed the rates of fluorescence decay rather than having to calculate the fluorescence lifetimes, which can vary depending on the mathematical technique.

Using just one excitation wavelength was not good enough for differentiation but two or three made a big difference. Supported by principal components analysis and hierarchical cluster analysis, excitation at 280, 340 and 460 nm could distinguish between bacterial spores, vegetative bacteria, fungi and flours.

The method was illustrated with relatively cheap instrumentation and will be useful for the preliminary onsite screening of white powders in suspected bioterrorism incidents, before samples are returned to the lab for more detailed analysis. Harmless materials like talc and gypsum were indicated by their low fluorescence signals.

In the long term, the scientists would like to establish a database of dry materials for real-time detection and monitoring systems to be used in hoaxes and act as an aid in the classification of hazardous substances.

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