U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Laser Ablation Coupled With DAPNe-NSI-MS Applied to Redacted Documents

NCJ Number
Date Published
September 2016
12 pages
Vivian Huynh; Zachary J. Sasiene; Philip M. Mach; Teresa D Golden; Guido F. Verbeck
This article reports on a project that used laser ablation to strip ink layers without damaging the text underneath, and laser ablation was coupled with direct analyte-probled nanoextraction coupled to nanospray ionization mass spectrometry (DAPNe-NSI-MS) to prevent the destruction of the ink of interest.
Laser ablation has been applied to redacted documents, where the text has been concealed by other ink. This technique strips the redacting ink revealing the text that was once redacted. Once removed, a nanomanipulation technique is used to extract the ink of the underlying text where mass spectrometry is then implemented to analyze its ink chemistry. In order to facilitate microscopy with direct analyte-probed nanoextraction coupled to nanospray ionization mass spectrometry (DAPNe-NSI-MS), laser ablation must be executed prior to ink extraction. Laser ablation has a nondestructive approach of stripping the ink used to redact the document. Not only does this reveal the text, it clears an area for DAPNe to directly extract ink, in miniscule amounts, from the document without inducing destruction. The redacting ink was concluded to affect the aging process of the concealed handwritten ink more than the printed text. The redacted handwritten sample obtained higher relative peak area values than the control samples (text that was not redacted), and the control for the printed text produced higher amounts of low molecular weight products than the sample. Implementing laser ablation on these samples could also affect the chemical properties of the underlying ink due to the additional UV radiation and plasma heating. Results indicate by using laser ablation to remove the redacting ink, the relative peak area of the underlying ink deviates by 1.25 percent. The thermal degradation of binding agents such as polymethylene, polyethylene glycol, and diethylene glycol was monitored by calculating the relative peak area for 5 days, which tracks the oxidation process. The relative peak area values were also used to determine the chemical kinetics of polyethylene glycol, where degradation and polymerization occur. (publisher abstract modified)

Date Created: July 20, 2021