Forensic Analysis of Explosives Using Isotope Ratio Mass Spectrometry (IRMS)—Part 2: Forensic Inter-Laboratory Trial: Bulk Carbon and Nitrogen Stable Isotopes in a Range of Chemical Compounds (Australia and New Zealand)

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Comparability of data over time and between laboratories is a key issue for consideration in the development of global databases, and more broadly for quality assurance in general. One mechanism that can be utilized for evaluating traceability is an inter-laboratory trial. This paper addresses an inter-laboratory trial conducted across a number of Australian and New Zealand isotope ratio mass spectrometry (IRMS) laboratories. The main objective of this trial was to determine whether IRMS laboratories in these countries would record comparable values for the distributed samples. Four carbon containing and four nitrogen containing compounds were distributed to seven laboratories in Australia and one in New Zealand. The laboratories were requested to analyze the samples using their standard procedures. The data from each laboratory was evaluated collectively using International Standard ISO 13528 (Statistical methods for use in proficiency testing by inter-laboratory comparisons). “Warning signals” were raised against one participant in this trial. “Action signals” requiring corrective action were raised against four participants. These participants reviewed the data and possible sources for the discrepancies. This inter-laboratory trial was successful in providing an initial snapshot of the potential for traceability between the participating laboratories. The statistical methods described in this article could be used as a model for others needing to evaluate stable isotope results derived from multiple laboratories, e.g., inter-laboratory trials/proficiency testing. Ongoing trials will be conducted to improve traceability across the Australian and New Zealand IRMS community.

Keywords: carbon isotope; forensic science; inter-laboratory trial; isotope ratio mass spectrometry; isotope ratios; nitrogen isotope; traceability

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Centre for Forensic Science, University of Technology, Sydney, PO Box 123, Broadway 2007, NSW, Australia. 2: Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, PMB 1, Menai 2234, NSW, Australia. 3: Environmental Isotopes Pty. Ltd., PO Box 1492, Macquarie Centre 2113, NSW, Australia. 4: Iso-trace Ltd., Centre for Innovation, St David Street, Dunedin, New Zealand. 5: Research School of Biological Sciences, Australian National University, GPO Box 475, Canberra 2601, ACT, Australia. 6: Geoscience Australia, GPO Box 378, Canberra 2601, ACT, Australia. 7: School of Chemistry, Physics and Earth Sciences, Flinders University, GPO 2100, Adelaide 5001, SA, Australia.

Publication date: January 1, 2010



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