Samples arrive at LLNL’s Forensic Science Center (FSC) in many different forms and states of stabilization. Some are water, vegetation, or soil samples; others are wipes of substances that may be related to clandestine weapons-production activities; and some can be quite enigmatic. Many substances are present only in minute quantities whose characteristic signature profile may be masked by a host of background chemicals or radioactivities also present in the sample. Many have deteriorated or decayed into decomposition and daughter products, while others are contaminated by extraneous materials. To analyze and assess any sample accurately, we must be able to isolate and identify all of its component species and their relative concentrations.
Leveraging rapid CBRNE—chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosive—forensic capabilities, the FSC houses a variety of technologies, including gas chromatography, mass spectrometry, atomic emission detection, x-ray, gamma, and alpha-particle spectrometry, infrared and Raman spectrometry, liquid chromatography, inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry, and capillary electrophoreses. The FSC is one of the world’s best-equipped laboratories for the analysis of exceedingly small quantities of materials.