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Automated Mapping of Explosives Particles in Composition C-4 Fingerprints

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A method is described to perform automated mapping of hexahydro-1,3,5-trinitro-1,3,5-triazine (RDX) particles in C-4 fingerprints. The method employs polarized light microscopy and image analysis to map the entire fingerprint and the distribution of RDX particles. This method can be used to evaluate a large number of fingerprints to aid in the development of threat libraries that can be used to determine performance requirements of explosive trace detectors. A series of 50 C-4 fingerprints were characterized, and results show that the number of particles varies significantly from print to print, and within a print. The particle size distributions can be used to estimate the mass of RDX in the fingerprint. These estimates were found to be within ±26% relative of the results obtained from dissolution gas chromatography/μ-electron capture detection for four of six prints, which is quite encouraging for a particle counting approach. By evaluating the average mass and frequency of particles with respect to size for this series of fingerprints, we conclude that particles 10–20 μm in diameter could be targeted to improve detection of traces of C-4 explosives.
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Keywords: automated imaging; explosives; fingerprints; forensic science; particle counting; polarized light microscopy; trace detection

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: National Institute of Standards and Technology, Gaithersburg, MD. 2: Transportation Security Laboratory, Atlantic City International Airport, NJ.

Publication date: March 1, 2010

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