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Nanomanipulator analyzes chemical signatures

Guido Verbeck demonstrates the nanomanipulator.Cocaine. Methamphetamine. Nitroglycerine. Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT).

Guido Verbeck, assistant professor of chemistryEvery explosive, drug, and biological agent carries a unique chemical signature. Guido Verbeck, right, forensic scientist and assistant professor of chemistry, studies these signatures to glean important information about a substance’s origin, composition and distribution.

Verbeck, inspired by a 2010 seminar sponsored by the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, uses a sophisticated instrument and method of his own design - the nanomanipulator, above. He can extract and analyze chemical residues from between the ridges of fingerprints down to the nano scale.

Interested parties, from Homeland Security and the United States military to the law enforcement and medical communities, are eager to use this device.

The nanomanipulator is petite, portable, and built to be mounted on any microscope and mass spectrometer. It is a sophisticated, in-hand tool for use in the field, able to detect compounds on nearly any material, including fabric, wood, plastic, skin and metal.

Most instruments cannot detect drug and explosive residues in ultra-trace amounts, and multiple factors hinder a reliable analysis of chemical composition. Nanomanipulation-microscopy coupled with mass spectrometry offers a superior solution that can lead investigators to potential suspects in terrorist attacks and illegal activities.

— Julie West, Office of Research and Economic Development

Posted on: Wed 25 January 2012