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Anal Chem. 2015 Mar 3;87(5):2693-701. doi: 10.1021/ac504693v. Epub 2015 Feb 13.

Chemical imaging of latent fingerprints by mass spectrometry based on laser activated electron tunneling.

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Key Laboratory of Pesticides and Chemical Biology, Ministry of Education, College of Chemistry, Central China Normal University , Wuhan, Hubei 430079, P. R. China.


Identification of endogenous and exogenous chemicals contained in latent fingerprints is important for forensic science in order to acquire evidence of criminal identities and contacts with specific chemicals. Mass spectrometry has emerged as a powerful technique for such applications without any derivatization or fluorescent tags. Among these techniques, MALDI (Matrix Assisted Laser Desorption Ionization) provides small beam size but has interferences with MALDI matrix materials, which cause ion suppressions as well as limited spatial resolution resulting from uneven distribution of MALDI matrix crystals with different sizes. LAET (Laser Activated Electron Tunneling) described in this work offers capabilities for chemical imaging through electron-directed soft ionization. A special film of semiconductors has been designed for collection of fingerprints. Nanoparticles of bismuth cobalt zinc oxide were compressed on a conductive metal substrate (Al or Cu sticky tape) under 10 MPa pressure. Resultant uniform thin films provide tight and shining surfaces on which fingers are impressed. Irradiation of ultraviolet laser pulses (355 nm) on the thin film instantly generates photoelectrons that can be captured by adsorbed organic molecules and subsequently cause electron-directed ionization and fragmentation. Imaging of latent fingerprints is achieved by visualization of the spatial distribution of these molecular ions and structural information-rich fragment ions. Atomic electron emission together with finely tuned laser beam size improve spatial resolution. With the LAET technique, imaging analysis not only can identify physical shapes but also reveal endogenous metabolites present in females and males, detect contacts with prohibited substances, and resolve overlapped latent fingerprints.

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