The Construction and Optimization on an Ion Mobility Spectrometer for the Analysis of Explosives and Drugs Dissertation

thesis or dissertation chair

fiu authors

  • Lai, Hanh Tuyet


  • Today, over 15,000 Ion Mobility Spectrometry (IMS) analyzers are employed at worldwide security checkpoints to detect explosives and illicit drugs. Current portal IMS instruments and other electronic nose technologies detect explosives and drugs by analyzing samples containing the headspace air and loose particles residing on a surface. Canines can outperform these systems at sampling and detecting the low vapor pressure explosives and drugs, such as RDX, PETN, cocaine, and MDMA, because these biological detectors target the volatile signature compounds available in the headspace rather than the non-volatile parent compounds of explosives and drugs. In this dissertation research volatile signature compounds available in the headspace over explosive and drug samples were detected using SPME as a headspace sampling tool coupled to an IMS analyzer. A Genetic Algorithm (GA) technique was developed to optimize the operating conditions of a commercial IMS (GE Itemizer 2), leading to the successful detection of plastic explosives (Detasheet, Semtex H, and C-4) and illicit drugs (cocaine, MDMA, and marijuana). Short sampling times (between 10 sec to 5 min) were adequate to extract and preconcentrate sufficient analytes (> 20 ng) representing the volatile signatures in the headspace of a 15 mL glass vial or a quart-sized can containing ≤ 1 g of the bulk explosive or drug. Furthermore, a research grade IMS with flexibility for changing operating conditions and physical configurations was designed and fabricated to accommodate future research into different analytes or physical configurations. The design and construction of the FIU-IMS were facilitated by computer modeling and simulation of ion’s behavior within an IMS. The simulation method developed uses SIMION/SDS and was evaluated with experimental data collected using a commercial IMS (PCP Phemto Chem 110). The FIU-IMS instrument has comparable performance to the GE Itemizer 2 (average resolving power of 14, resolution of 3 between two drugs and two explosives, and LODs range from 0.7 to 9 ng). The results from this dissertation further advance the concept of targeting volatile components to presumptively detect the presence of concealed bulk explosives and drugs by SPME-IMS, and the new FIU-IMS provides a flexible platform for future IMS research projects.

publication date

  • February 2, 2010


  • Drugs
  • Explosives
  • Forensic
  • GC/MS
  • Genetic Algorithms Optmization
  • Illicit Substances
  • Ion Mobility Spectrometry
  • Ion Optic Simulation
  • SPME

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)