Ultra-sensitive cocaine detection

The Column

The Column, The Column-05-24-2010, Volume 6, Issue 9

The development of an ultra-sensitive gas chromatographic technique has enabled a team of researchers from the University of Derby, UK, to detect cocaine at picogram levels from forensic swabs.

The development of an ultra-sensitive gas chromatographic technique has enabled a team of researchers from the University of Derby, UK, to detect cocaine at picogram levels from forensic swabs. The method, using GC–MS, was developed by forensic science student Sonica Devi to help identify minute traces of cocaine at six phone boxes from around the city of Derby.Samples were taken using a variety of swabs, some wetted with ethanol; wetted with water; and dry swabs to maximize how much cocaine could be lifted from the surfaces of the phone box. The gas chromatograph was able to separate the cocaine from other materials, allowing detection by the mass spectrometer of levels of cocaine as low as fifty picograms.

“By improving the sensitivity of our GC–MS technique we can now see cocaine and other closely related materials down to incredibly low levels, which would not have been possible previously,” said Dr Alan-Shaun Wilkinson, senior lecturer, University of Derby, who supervised Sonica during this project. “This important piece of work opens the door to analysing a whole range of different drug types with similar sensitivities.”

This story originally appeared in The Column. Click here to view that issue.