Illegal drug chemicals identified by X-rays

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  • Published: Jan 29, 2013
  • Author: Steve Down
  • Channels: X-ray Spectrometry / MRI Spectroscopy / Base Peak / Proteomics / Infrared Spectroscopy / UV/Vis Spectroscopy / Atomic / NMR Knowledge Base / Chemometrics & Informatics / Raman

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The liquid chemicals used to make illegal drugs like amphetamines and to process heroin and cocaine can be identified by X-ray scattering, say Chinese researchers, providing a non-contact, non-destructive test. Explaining their new procedure in X-ray Spectrometry, Daoyang Yua and Jinhuai Liu from the Institute of Intelligent Machines, Hefei, and co-researchers, show how different chemicals can be distinguished from their scattering patterns after principal components analysis of the spectra.

They examined a total of 12 liquids, including water, acetone (used to refine cocaine), acetic anhydride (for heroin processing), isosafrole (used in the production of the amphetamine MDMA), oil of vitriol (sulphuric acid), and solvents like benzene, o-xylene and ethyl ether. Each liquid was analysed by low-energy X-ray scattering for three minutes and showed unique spectra. However, the spectra of some substances were very similar, so they were subjected to PCA to distinguish them.

In this way, the acidic compounds oil of vitriol, acetic acid and acetic anhydride were clearly distinguished by a 2D PCA plot. Similarly, the three ketones acetone, 2-butanone and 3,4-methylenedioxyphenyl-2-propanone were also well-separated in the PCA plots, as were benzene, methylbenzene and o-xylene. A single PCA plot of these nine substances grouped them into their three groups which were all well-separated from the other groups.

The method will be useful in the fight against the illegal drug trade, helping to identify the chemicals used in their manufacture. It might also be applied to the detection of other liquid chemicals, like liquid explosives.

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