CSI Miami Meets Minnesota’s Forensic Chemists

FTIR Testing Investigative Chemistry When we hear the term “forensic science,” we often think of the popular CSI crime shows. CSI stands for “crime scene investigation.” But, did you know that chemists, biologists and researchers all are involved with investigative chemistry and forensic analysis across industries?

Manufacturers stand to lose millions of dollars in lost time and product if their adhesives or solvents, for example, are contaminated. Plastics and electronics manufacturers rely on FTIR testing to determine if their polymer based parts meet their specifications and quality standards.

Forensic Chemists: The CSI of Manufacturing Processes

Lab analysts, the forensic scientists of the business world, use forensic analysis to examine objects, substances and chemicals just like criminologists do. It’s just that they deal with data retrieved from a manufacturing process rather than a crime scene.

The data or “evidence” collected at the plant is subsequently analyzed in a laboratory by scientists specializing in materials characterization. While FTIR analysts don’t identify fingerprints or DNA, they do identify unknown materials, residues, films and fibers, just like crime scene technicians. In a way, you could consider them to be forensic chemists.

The similarities don’t end there. Just as the presence of more people at the scene of the crime introduces a greater likelihood of contaminating evidence, multiple handlings of industry samples may degrade the the data obtained. Often, samples extracted from an object or solution contain minute amounts of the chemical of interest and require very sensitive and accurate instruments for forensic analysis; strict quality controls must be imposed to avoid misidentification.

FTIR Identifies  Materials

We use Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FTIR) as a materials analysis and characterization technique to identify organic (and in some cases inorganic) materials.  Large reference libraries of the FTIR spectra of commercially available materials allow the analyst to identify unknown materials.  Using the use a microscope attachment to the FTIR, small particles or fibers down to 20 microns in size can be identified.

FTIR testing is also able to assist in the following types of analyses:

  • Measure levels of oxidation or degree of cure in polymers.
  • Quantify amounts of certain contaminants present on a material.
  • Identify constituents of a multi-layered material.

FTIR Testing Improves Profitability

FTIR analysts and forensic analysis may not sound as glamorous as crime scene investigators, and we don’t typically wear low cut shirts under our lab coats, but when you realize the amount of money and lost time involved in an unusable  product, that’s enough to get and keep any CEO’s attention. FTIR testing then becomes a critical component to your bottom line.

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