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Elemental analysis of soils by laser ablation inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (LA-ICP-MS) and LIBS with multivariate discrimination using tape-mounting as an alternative to pellets for small forensic transfer specimens

NCJ Number
Applied Spectroscopy Volume: 68 Issue: 9 Dated: 2014 Pages: 963-974
Date Published
12 pages

This article reports on the use of tape mounting as an alternative to pellets for small forensic transfer specimens in the elemental analysis of soils with laser ablation inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (LA-ICP-MS) and laser-inducted breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS) with multivariate discrimination.


The elemental analysis of soil is a useful application of both laser ablation inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (LA-ICP-MS) and laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS) in geological, agricultural, environmental, archeological, planetary, and forensic sciences. In forensic science, the question to be answered is often whether soil specimens found on objects (e.g., shoes, tires, or tools) originated from the crime scene or other location of interest. Elemental analysis of the soil from the object and the locations of interest results in a characteristic elemental profile of each specimen, consisting of the amount of each element present. Because multiple elements are measured, multivariate statistics can be used to compare the elemental profiles in order to determine whether the specimen from the object is similar to one of the locations of interest. Previous work involved milling and pressing 0.5 g of soil into pellets before analysis using LA-ICP-MS and LIBS; however, forensic examiners prefer techniques that require smaller samples, are less time consuming, and are less destructive, enabling future analysis by other techniques. The proposed alternative sample introduction method was developed to meet these needs while still providing quantitative results suitable for multivariate comparisons. The tape-mounting method involved deposition of a thin layer of soil onto double-sided adhesive tape. A comparison of tape-mounting and pellet method performance is reported for both LA-ICP-MS and LIBS. Calibration standards and reference materials, prepared using the tape method, were analyzed by LA-ICP-MS and LIBS. As with the pellet method, linear calibration curves were achieved with the tape method, as well as good precision and low bias. Soil specimens from Miami–Dade County were prepared by both the pellet and tape methods and analyzed by LA-ICP-MS and LIBS. Principal components analysis and linear discriminant analysis were applied to the multivariate data. Results from both the tape method and the pellet method were nearly identical, with clear groupings and correct classification rates of >94 percent. (publisher abstract modified)

Date Published: January 1, 2014