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Mass Spectrometry Applications in Forensic Science

Forensic Science

  1. Darrin L. Smith

Published Online: 15 JUN 2010

DOI: 10.1002/9780470027318.a9121

Encyclopedia of Analytical Chemistry

Encyclopedia of Analytical Chemistry

How to Cite

Smith, D. L. 2010. Mass Spectrometry Applications in Forensic Science. Encyclopedia of Analytical Chemistry. .

Author Information

  1. Eastern Kentucky University, Richmond, KY, USA

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 15 JUN 2010


The role of mass spectrometry (MS) in forensic science can be characterized as either molecular or elemental analysis. Relatively small, volatile, nonpolar molecules found in a variety of forensic samples can be analyzed with electron and chemical ionization (CI) routinely coupled with single-stage mass analyzers that provide molecular weight and structural information. Nonvolatile and polar molecules including drugs, poisons, and/or their metabolites routinely found in biological matrices along with other analytes of forensic interest can be determined using electrospray or related soft ionization techniques coupled to tandem mass analyzer systems to identify a molecule through structure elucidation and provide excellent screening and quantitative results. New ambient ionization sources now allow the direct analysis of molecules from a forensic sample surface, with minimal prior preparation or separation. In addition, the sequencing of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) has also been difficult with most ionization sources until matrix-assisted laser desorption ionization (MALDI), which has the potential to provide quick and dependable results, was utilized. Elemental profiles also provide reliable methods for characterizing and distinguishing forensic samples. This article aims at providing information about MS and its uses in the field of forensic science.


  • forensic science;
  • gas chromatography mass spectrometry (GC/MS);
  • liquid chromatography mass spectrometry (LC/MS);
  • ambient ionization;
  • matrix-assisted laser desorption ionization (MALDI);
  • elemental mass spectrometry