Wednesday, April 19, 2006

What does statistics have to do with drug contaminated bank notes?

Author: Mahalakshmi Prabhakaran

Does the topic pique your curiosity? Are you wondering what indeed does statistics have to do with drug contaminated notes? Let's suffice it to say: Everything. Yes, though the connection may sound implausible, a team of conscientious and dedicated researchers have discovered that a multivariate statistical technique called Mass-spectroscopy can aid policemen in detecting drug contaminated notes. A process that is significantly faster than other previous methods, the Mass-Spectroscopy method helps detect a distinct pattern of contamination on banknotes. One that is different from the notes seen in general circulation.

Before delving into the process of drug detection, it would be good to deliberate on the meaning of Mass spectroscopy. Glossing over the technicalities, Mass Spectroscopy can simply be described as a technique used to determine the mass-to-charge (m/z) ratio of ions. This analysis method helps find the composition of a physical sample by generating a mass spectrum that represents the masses of the sample's components. Effective multivariate softwares like The Unscrambler® help researchers perform Mass spectroscopy on data derived from a multitude of industry verticals.

It is this seemingly easy- sounding technique that has emerged as a critical tool to aid detection and control of drug- trafficking. What makes it a handy and effective tool is that Mass spectrometry can help determine the chemical nature of a compound, even if only a minute sample is available.

In this process, banknotes recovered during police raids were heated to 285º C to vaporize the chemicals. The vapors were sucked into the detector and the chemicals smashed into fragments. The short heating time helped remove sufficient material from the notes without destroying them (a crucial consideration to be kept in mind while conducting forensic work).The logic behind this method is that if the notes were to contain heroin, the mass spectrometer would detect two product ions namely, (m/z 328 and 268) from the protonated molecular ion (m/z 370). The presence of these 2 ions on a bank note would confirm the presence of diacetylmorphine (DAM), the major active component of heroin.

What makes this method the apt solution is that: by using this method around 500 notes can be analysed in one hour, including the strict paperwork that is required for train of evidence. A typical GC/MS analysis of 500 notes, on the other hand, would have taken about 170 hours. In a scenario where time is of the utmost importance, Mass spectrometry can prove to be timely solution to the crime fighters. Tetrahydrocannabinol (cannabis), Cocaine, MDMA (ecstasy) and DAM (heroin) are the main targets to be tested through this method. Other drugs such as amphetamine or cutting agents, such as caffeine, will be added as required.

The rapid analytical technique ensures the accurate analysis of banknotes. Researchers opine that the techniques may be easily adapted to the analysis of drugs found on other surfaces such as mobile phones, car interiors and house furniture, in the near future.

Multivariate statistical methods like Mass spectrometry are extremely useful in research; as they have the ability to compress data into a more easily managed form. This can assist in visualizing, for example, how a given sample relates to other samples.

Multivariate analysis is practically essential in the fingerprinting approaches, such as the case discussed here. While there are quite a few established statistical software that can help investigators analyze and predict results of spectral data, The Unscrambler® is the most comprehensive software available that can aid researchers, cops, spectroscopists and chemometricians in making an intelligent interpretation of the spectral data procured from bank notes.

About the author: Mahalakshmi is a Marketing Writer for CAMO Group, the creator of the mulivariate data analysis tool The Unscrambler® . The Unscrambler® can be used extensively across a multitude of industry verticals including, Forensics; Pharmaceutical & Biotech; Agriculture and Environmental; Oil and Gas; Food Science and Nutrition; Chemicals; Polymers & Specialty Materials.

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