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PTR-MS for the sensitive and rapid real-time detection of solid high explosives in air and water

A new article in ABC demonstrates the capabilities of detecting explosives in air and water with IONICON DAI-PTR-MS

IONICON scientists successfully demonstrate  the DAI (direct aqueous injection) system’s capabilities to detect explosives in water. The IONICON DAI system is currently in development and allows for injection of liquids and analysis of which in IONICON PTR-MS instruments.

PTR-MS is known for its low real-time detection limit for trace VOCs in air and the DAI system will be used to extend the range of possible PTR-MS applications to the liquid phase.


Relying on recent developments in proton transfer reaction mass spectrometry (PTR-MS), we demonstrate here the capability of detecting solid explosives in air and in water in real time.

Two different proton transfer reaction mass spectrometers have been used in this study. One is the PTR-TOF 8000, which has an enhanced mass resolution (m/Δm up to 8,000) and high sensitivity (~50 cps/ppbv). The second is the high-sensitivity PTR-MS, which has an improved limit of detection of about several hundreds of parts per quadrillion by volume and is coupled with a direct aqueous injection device. These instruments have been successfully used to identify and monitor the solid explosive 2,4,6-trinitrotoluene (TNT) by analysing on the one hand the headspace above small quantities of samples at room temperature and from trace quantities not visible to the naked eye placed on surfaces (also demonstrating the usefulness of a simple pre-concentration and thermal desorption technique) and by analysing on the other hand trace compounds in water down to a level of about 100 pptw. The ability to identify even minute amounts of threat compounds, such as explosives, particularly within a complex chemical environment, is vital to the fight against crime and terrorism and is of paramount importance for the appraisal of the fate and harmful effects of TNT at marine ammunition dumping sites and the detection of buried antipersonnel and antitank landmines.

Citation and free article download:

S. Jürschik, P. Sulzer, F. Petersson, C. A. Mayhew, A. Jordan, B. Agarwal, S. Haidacher, H. Seehauser, K. Becker, T. D. Märk: Proton transfer reaction mass spectrometry for the sensitive and rapid real-time detection of solid high explosives in air and water, Anal Bioanal Chem 398 (2010), 2813–2820.

Related article in press:

S. Jürschik, A. Tani, P. Sulzer, S. Haidacher, A. Jordan, R. Schottkowsky, E. Hartungen, G. Hanel, H. Seehauser, L. Märk, T.D. Märk: Direct aqueous injection analysis of trace compounds in water with proton-transfer-reaction mass spectrometry (PTR-MS), International Journal of Mass Spectrometry 289 (2010), 173–176.