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Real World Raman: Mira DS in Action – Detecting drugs safely in the field

Real World Raman: Mira DS in Action – Detecting drugs safely in the field

Methamphetamine (meth, Figure 1) abuse is one of the top drug problems impacting the social, economic, and health welfare of many developed and developing countries. Short-term use of meth, a powerful stimulant, provides a euphoric sense of alertness and enhanced capability for work-related activities. Chronic use inevitably leads to addiction, antisocial and sometimes violent criminal behavior, and a pronounced decline in the overall health and well-being of the user.

The proliferation and use of meth across the US, Asia, and Europe is aided by underground «kitchen» laboratories, which are the primary source of clandestine meth production and distribution.

Figure 1. Methamphetamine crystals.

Meth can be easily synthesized from pseudoephedrine extracted from over-the-counter cold medications (Figure 2) and easily purchased commercial products enriched in required reagents.

Figure 2. Pseudoephedrine tablets.

A number of different procedures have been adopted for the clandestine synthesis of meth. However, the widespread one-pot «Shake and Bake» method is uniquely adapted for covert small-scale cooking operations due to the inherent simplicity of the chemical reaction and laboratory setup.

Increasingly, methamphetamine production has moved from large-scale laboratory operations to small-scale syntheses using one-pot methods. To address this challenge, police must identify the contents of potential reaction vessels and establish a pattern of production within a discrete geographical area in order to apprehend and convict methamphetamine producers.

The target in these cases can be a discarded glass jar or plastic drink bottle containing reaction residue (Figure 3).

Figure 3. Plastic waste that appears to be the remains of a clandestine meth laboratory.

Effective suppression of meth production requires rapid confirmation of meth, or its related precursors and byproducts. Ideally, such tests are performed at the scene of suspected primitive «cooking» facilities by drug enforcement officers and first responders. On-site detection must utilize instrumentation that is compact, cost-effective, fast, and incorporates user-friendly operation procedures. 

However, rapid and portable detection capabilities for front-line law enforcement officers are lacking. These include pH strips, direct observation of odors, lab-related trash and chemical containers, and notoriously unreliable colorimetric tests. The alternative is laboratory analysis, which is complicated due to costs, time, transport, and availability.

Handheld Raman is a relatively new method that streamlines field identification of potentially flammable and explosive residues in one-pot vessels (Figure 4). Sampling and identification occurs through plastic and glass surfaces, ensuring police safety by reducing exposure to potentially hazardous materials.

Figure 4. Metrohm Raman Mira DS identifying meth in the field through a glass jar.
Did you read our last blog about handheld Raman at Metrohm? If not, read it here!

In this article, the advantage of using handheld Raman to obtain forensic evidence linking a suspected «cook» site with meth production is demonstrated. Mira DS is Metrohm’s premier handheld Raman system designed to meet the needs of first responders (Figure 5). 

Figure 5. Metrohm Raman Mira DS and optional measurement attachments for the simple identification of illicit and hazardous materials.
Want to find out more about Mira DS? Visit our website!

Unlike trained analytical scientists, defense and security professionals need a solution that gives them instant results without complicated routines. With Smart Acquire, Mira DS is a point-and-shoot solution. Simply power up the instrument, touch the screen once to activate the laser and again to take a sample, then Mira DS automatically optimizes acquisition parameters, processes data, identifies the target through library matching, and delivers the results with relevant chemical warnings – all in less than a minute. When Mira DS is used with MiraCal M mobile software, these results can be shared instantly to alert others of potential danger.

 

Response Team Training with Mira DS

Simulated testing of a small-scale meth production facility was conducted in the US Midwest by the Security and Defense directorate of Metrohm USA to support Civil Support Team (CST) Training. During the Civil Support Skills CBRNE Course training, first responders are taught to recognize laboratories in which Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear or high-yield Explosive materials are being manufactured or manipulated.

Equipped with a detailed education in weapons of mass destruction and drug chemistry, attendees are required to recreate and evaluate realistic clandestine laboratories using innovative methods (Figure 6). Upon the successful completion of training, CST graduates possess unique capabilities, expertise, and an in-depth command of the technologies required for responding to CBRNE defense scenarios.

Figure 6. Images of CST test site for illicit chemical synthesis using Mira DS with Standoff Attachment for safe measurement.

During CST training, meth was synthesized using the one pot «Shake and Bake» method. This is the preferred route for making meth in low resource labs, despite relatively low product purity. The key ingredients for synthesis are easily sourced from hardware and drug stores. Preparatory procedures, the chemical reaction steps, and drug recovery can be performed in a few hours using emptied glass jars or plastic beverage bottles, tape, and tubing. Plastic is preferred to glass, as the risk of explosion during the course of the reaction is very high.

For more information about our Standoff Attachment, visit our website and watch the video below!

Testing for illicit substances is simple with Mira DS

Trainees used Mira DS (Figure 5), a handheld Raman device, to directly interrogate liquid waste in glass jars at a simulated cook site directly through the container material. Attachments for Mira DS snap on with a simple magnetic interface. Figure 7 shows the analysis of the actual one-pot meth reaction waste, seen as a bi-phasic liquid layer that remained following the removal of product. 

First, the Intelligent Universal Attachment (iUA) was used in its «bottle» setting to test each liquid waste layer directly through the glass. This attachment has three settings, including «surface» for direct contact with a material, and «bag» and «bottle» for sampling through thin and thick barriers.

Figure 7. Mira DS with Intelligent Universal Attachment in use at CST training, testing bi-phasic one-pot meth reaction waste. Left: measuring the bottom (yellow) layer – identified as calcium nitrate. Right: measuring the top (orange) layer – identified as acetone.

Next, the Contact Ball Probe Attachment (CBP) was used to confirm the identity of the waste. CBP is a chemically resistant quick dip solution for direct sampling, and can be used with both liquids and powdered solids.

In short, Mira DS was outfitted with an attachment, powered up, the laser activated, and testing initiated using the touch screen. On-board Smart Acquire algorithms automatically optimize acquisition parameters (Laser Power, Integration Time, Averaging, etc.), process spectral data, perform library searches and matching for the user, and report results in under a minute with color-coded chemical warnings and alerts.

Results of the CST training

The library spectral stack in Figure 8 includes the product, methamphetamine, and reagents used in its synthesis during the training course. Actual data acquired during both training and real-world testing scenarios can be expected to be «messy» due to substandard reaction conditions and resulting complex chemical mixtures. Mira DS addresses this challenge by automatically correlating acquired spectra with library spectra of illicit substances, performing Mixture Matching routines, and rapidly reporting the top matches.

Figure 8. Raman Illicit Library reference spectra for the major reagents used in one-pot meth production (click to enlarge).

To learn more about identifying narcotics in complex samples using handheld Raman, download our free white paper!

To summarize, Mira DS is capable of rapidly identifying key components of a popular method for clandestine meth synthesis. Two notable aspects of these results:

  • additional peaks in experimental spectra correlate with unidentified reaction byproducts, but
  • the excellent spectral resolution here, reinforced by very high correlation (HQI) scores, is a reflection of the suitability of handheld Raman as an on-site analytical tool.

In real world situations, first responders must maintain their training and stay current regarding the diverse materials and methods they are likely to encounter to ensure that Raman library entries are up to date.

Conclusion

In most situations, the product has already been removed from the cook site. Therefore one-pot meth site inspection does not realistically result in a methamphetamine identification, but the discarded waste chemicals can provide forensic evidence of meth production. These results illustrate the unique capabilities of handheld Raman in the hands of law enforcement in real world scenarios. This technique is powerful in several ways:

  • Data can be collected on-site and shared electronically for increased technical support
  • No-contact sampling of container contents reduces danger during investigation
  • Results are given in a few seconds
  • Mixture Matching provides results for real world scenarios
  • Results provide forensic evidence to link a suspected cook site with methamphetamine production

Mira DS is a promising and robust analytical tool for obtaining corroborative forensic evidence and successfully prosecuting drug crime.

Learn more about Mira DS in action in our next installment of the Real World Raman series!

Download our free white paper

Safety in Any Situation – Addressing the needs of first responders

Post written by Dr. Mark Harpster (Research Scientist, University of Wyoming/Applications Chemist, Metrohm Raman, Laramie, Wyoming, USA), Dr. Melissa J. Gelwicks (Applications Chemist, Metrohm Raman, Laramie, Wyoming, USA), and Dr. Bryan H. Ray (WMD Clandestine Production Laboratory Site Safety Officer Course/Civil Support Skills CBRNE Course Instructor, Metrohm USA, Tampa, Florida).

Combat food fraud: Meet Misa

Combat food fraud: Meet Misa

What’s on your plate?

Food fraud is an ever-present danger around the world. Despite increased regulations, huge scandals still occur regularly, such as deliberately tainted infant formula (2008), or the horse meat affair in the UK due to improper labelling (2013). Other more common examples include the adulteration of highly valued items with lower cost substitutes, or the illegal enhancement of color in foods and beverages with unsafe dyes.

As the population continues to increase, driving the demand for high quality food and beverage choices, so will the amount of food fraud cases. Only a concerted effort to test foodstuffs more frequently in an efficient manner along the supply chain with accurate and precise analytical techniques will bring these cases to light before more people come to harm.

Misa to the rescue

Meet the newest addition to the Metrohm Instant Raman Analyzer family: Misa, the Metrohm Instant SERS Analyzer. Misa is fast, smart, and portable with powerful algorithms that simplify high-tech analyses for non-technicians. Misa is designed with safety in mind, purposefully designed to detect illicit drugs and food additives in complex matrices.

The SERS Principle

Surface Enhanced Raman Scattering (SERS) is an extension of Raman. Perhaps you read in my previous blog post about Raman spectroscopy that «If you can see it, Raman can ID it»… well, SERS amplifies the Raman signal of trace analytes, making it an extremely sensitive method for «ID when you can’t see it.»

When SERS-active analytes adsorb to silver or gold nanoparticles, their Raman signal is enhanced as much as a million-fold, providing incredibly sensitive detection abilities.

SERS is used in biosensor applications, including single-cell sensing, antibody detection, and pathogen monitoring. It can be used to detect chemical warfare agents and illicit drug laboratory residues. Additionally, SERS is a particularly powerful technique for detecting trace contaminants in foodstuffs such as antibiotics fungicides, pesticides, herbicides, illicit dyes, and other additives.

If you know ID Kit for Mira DS, then you already know a little about SERS. SERS is an «enhancement» technique to Raman that enables detection of trace materials. For example, ID Kit was developed as a method for identifying heroin and fentanyl in street drug samples. The cutting agents and added stimulants that constitute the bulk of street heroin fluoresce under investigation with Raman and overwhelm the signal coming from heroin. SERS sees right through the cutting agents and identifies the drug.

Overlaid Raman and SERS spectra demonstrating the ability of SERS to detect the active ingredient in street heroin.

Another example of how Raman and SERS complement each other can be seen with Yaba, a common street drug in southeast Asia. Yaba is a red tablet that contains significant caffeine with a small amount of methamphetamine. When a red Yaba tablet is analyzed with Raman, caffeine and the red dye in the coating are the primary identification targets. This makes sense, because Raman is very good at identifying bulk materials.

However, when a Yaba tablet is subjected to SERS analysis, the story is very different (reminder: these are both also capabilities of Mira DS!) Only SERS can ID the methamphetamine in Yaba and complete the story.

Protecting Consumer Safety with Misa

Consumer safety relies on the ability of food inspectors to detect unwanted additives and assure the quality of the products. Trace detection of food adulterants is traditionally very involved laboratory work, using HPLC, GC/MS, and other techniques requiring extensive sample preparation and scientific training. Misa is designed to simplify food testing, from sample preparation, to sharing results.

The unique capabilities of Misa and SERS analysis in food testing deserve some explanation. Raman is used in food testing in some incredible ways: identifying counterfeit honey, distinguishing scotch from different producers, discriminating between very similar sugars, even making a distinction between grass- and grain-fed beef. However, these are bulk, inherent qualities of a food.

Looking for trace levels of pesticides is a very different science. A successful SERS analyte must interact with nanoparticles—target molecules with amine, carboxyl, and thiol groups often have the required interaction. Fortunately, many food additives fit this definition. Metrohm Raman sponsored a year-long study to identify 82 different food adulterants that can be successfully detected with our SERS substrates. That was just the beginning.

Are you looking for applications suitable for Misa? Check out our free selection of application notes available on the Metrohm website: 

Additionally, reference spectra for several other analytes can be obtained by contacting your local Metrohm  sales organization. 

The next step was to determine the foods which were typically treated with these illicit substances, then how to simplify sample preparation for potentially demanding food matrices. Metrohm Raman is taking two different approaches to this challenge. First, Misa will be released with 17 different «real world» food safety applications (click to download):

Misa is a unique instrument, which is reflected in this broad collection of Application Notes (AN). In addition to standard spectra and experiments, each AN includes a special section titled «Field Test Protocol». Briefly, the Field Test Protocol guides any user through a complete experiment using Misa and the tools in the ID Kits. ID Kits for Misa contain dedicated SERS substrates, in addition to the basic tools required for field testing. These, combined with companion Operating Procedures included on Misa, make food safety testing accessible to anyone, anywhere.

Our second approach to application development for Misa is a very interactive process with our users as we identify the target and food matrix, provide standard spectra for library building, advise sample preparation, and help to optimize results. This approach acknowledges that food is different around the world, adulterants vary, and concerns may be localized. These ANs that accompany Misa at release are intended to give the user an idea of how to use SERS and when it is a useful technique for detection of food contaminants, but custom applications will certainly increase demand for Misa.

Metrohm Raman is excited to introduce you to Misa. Misa has all of the qualities that you appreciate about Mira—intuitive user interface, simple guided workflow, and smart attachments to facilitate onsite testing by non-chemists. Our approach to simplifying food testing includes libraries, dozens of reference spectra, and developed applications targeting food adulterants.

Visit our website

and discover more about how Misa can help the fight against food adulteration scandals.

Post written by Dr. Melissa Gelwicks, Technical Writer at Metrohm Raman, Laramie, Wyoming (USA).

How Mira Became Mobile

How Mira Became Mobile

Handheld Raman spectrometers are truly like no other analytical chemical instruments. All spectrometers (e.g. IR/NIR, UV-Vis, GC/MS, and Raman) rely on interactions between matter and energy and include detectors that collect information about resulting atomic and molecular changes. This information is used to qualify and/or quantify various chemical species. Typically, a spectrometer is a benchtop instrument attached to a computer or other visual display that is used by an analytical chemist in a laboratory.

Classical Raman spectrometers fall into this category. Lasers, filters, detectors, and all associated hardware for sampling is combined in one unit, while data processing and viewing occurs nearby.

For a comparison of other spectroscopic techniques, visit our previous blog post «Infrared spectroscopy and near infrared spectroscopy – is there a difference?».

Raman is a unique investigative analytical technique in many ways. It is said, «If you can see it, Raman can ID it.»

Indeed, Raman’s strengths are its simple sampling methods combined with its specificity. Direct analysis is possible for many pure substances without sample preparation. Sampling is performed via direct contact with a substance, remotely, or through a barrier. Even solutes in water may be directly identified. This technique is highly specific; each material investigated with Raman produces a unique «fingerprint» spectrum. Raman spectroscopy is successful at positively identifying each distinct substance, while accurately rejecting even very similar compounds.

Mira (Metrohm Instant Raman Analyzer) with several sampling attachments for easy analysis: with or without sample contact.

The Raman spectrum

Raman spectra contain peaks across a range that correspond to specific molecular connectivity and can be used to determine the composition of a sample. The spectral range is dependent on spectrometer design, and embodies a balance of resolution and sensitivity.

The «fingerprint region» (400–1800 cm-1) is used to ID unknowns and verify known materials. The region below 400 cm-1 is helpful in the analysis of minerals, gemstones, metals, and semiconductors. For most organic materials (oils, polymers, plastics, proteins, sugars/starches, alcohols, solvents, etc…), very little information above 2255 cm-1 is useful in Raman applications, as carbon-hydrogen chains contribute little to molecular qualification.

A selection of different bonds and functional groups with their general regions of activity in the Raman portion of the electromagnetic spectrum (click to enlarge).

Mira’s measuring range of 400–2300 cm-1 is perfect for most Raman applications, including:

  • Pharma & Other Regulated Industries
  • Food
  • Personal Care & Cosmetics
  • Defense & Security
  • Process Analytics
  • Materials ID
  • Education & Research

Mira is available in different configurations for all kinds of applications and user needs.

Good things come in small packages

Technology, analysis, ease of use, accuracy—handheld Raman has all of this in a small format that escapes the confines of the lab. It also invites many new types of users who employ Raman for vastly new and exciting applications. In the rest of this blog post, I share details about the development of components that led to miniaturization of Raman. This is followed by the origin story of Metrohm Raman, manufacturer of Mira (Metrohm Instant Raman Analyzers).

Four significant innovations came together to create Mira: diode lasers, specialized filters and gratings, on-axis optics, and the CCD (Charge Coupled Device) in a unique design called the «astigmatic spectrograph». These basic components of a Raman spectrograph can be seen in the graphical representation above (click to enlarge). Note that this is not an accurate depiction of the unique geometries found within Mira’s case!

Raman spectroscopy is a technique which relies on the excitation of molecules with light (energy). C.V. Raman’s discovery of Raman scattering in 1928 was enabled by focused sunlight, which was then quickly replaced with a mercury lamp for excitation and photographic plates for detection. This resulted in a simple, popular, and effective method to determine the structure of simple molecules.

C.V. Raman. India Post, Government of India / GODL-India

The first commercial Raman spectrometer was available in the 1950’s. As lasers became more available in the 1960’s, followed by improved filter technology in the 1970’s, Raman grew in popularity as a technique for a wide range of chemical analysis. Integrated systems were first seen in the 1990’s, and the miniaturization of instruments began in the early 2000’s.

Miniaturization of Raman spectrometers

Diode lasers were the first step toward handheld Raman. For those of you at a certain age, you may remember that these are the kind of small, cool, low energy lasers used in CD players, stabilized at the source with a unique kind of diffraction grating.

Powerful, efficient optical filters also contribute to miniaturization by controlling laser light scattering within the spectrograph. The development of sensitive, small Charge Coupled Devices (CCDs), which are commonly used in mobile phone cameras, permitted the detection of Raman scattering and efficient transmission of the resulting signals to a computer for processing.

The astigmatic spectrograph simplified both geometry and alignment for the many components within a Raman spectrometer; this design was the final advancement in the development of handheld Raman.

From Wyoming to Switzerland

By the 1990’s, new technologies developed for diverse industries were being incorporated into Raman spectroscopy. In Laramie, WY (USA) at the time, Dr. Keith Carron was a professor of Analytical Chemistry with a focus on Surface Enhanced Raman Scattering (SERS). Dr. Carron already had robust SERS tests, but he envisioned a low-cost Raman system that would introduce his tests to industrial, medical, or defense and security markets. His next steps would revolutionize Raman spectroscopy. 

Using commercial off-the-shelf parts, Dr. Carron and his team developed an economical benchtop instrument that eliminated the high cost of Raman analysis, helping to enable its use in university curricula. In the early 2000’s, a research and education boom began as Raman grew from an esoteric technique used in high-end applications to becoming widely available for all kinds of tasks. Dr. Carron is responsible for ushering Raman into the current era. A collaboration led to a portable Raman system and, ultimately, to a new astigmatic spectrograph design in a very small instrument.

The U.S. tragedies on September 11, 2001 created an immediate push for technology to detect terrorist activity. Around this time, anthrax scares further enforced the need for “white powder” analyzers. Fieldable chemical analysis became the goal to achieve.

Dr. Carron was inspired to invent a truly handheld, battery powered Raman device for the identification of explosives and other illicit materials. A number of iterations led to CBex, a palm-sized Raman system (even smaller than Mira!) designed by Snowy Range Industries, in February 2012 (see image). CBex caught the attention of Metrohm AG, and an offer of cooperation was sent to Dr. Carron in August 2013.

Along comes Mira

Mira was born in 2015. Not only is it a novel analytical instrument, but it is also unique amongst handheld Raman spectrometers. Mira has the smallest form factor of all commercially available Raman instruments. What truly sets Mira apart from the competition is its built-in Smart Acquire routines, which provide anyone, anywhere, access to highly accurate analytical results. It is rugged, meeting MIL-STD 810G and IP67 specifications—you can drop Mira or submerge it in a liquid to get an ID.

Once Raman escaped the confines of the laboratory, it suddenly had the potential for new uses by non-technical operators, who could perform highly analytical tests safely, quickly, and accurately.

In fact, miniaturization of Raman has revolutionized safety in a number of ways:

  • Direct analysis eliminates dangers from exposure to laboratory solvents and other chemicals.
  • Through-packaging analysis prevents user contact with potentially hazardous materials.
  • Simplified on-site materials ID verifies the quality of ingredients in foods, medicines, supplements, cosmetics, and skin care products.
  • ID of illicit materials such as narcotics, explosives, and chemical warfare agents supports quick action by military and civilian agencies.

What’s Next?

I hope that you have enjoyed learning about the evolution of Raman technology from benchtop systems to the handheld instruments we have today. In the future, we will publish more articles about Mira that describe, in detail, several interesting applications of handheld Raman spectroscopy. 

You can find the first one of these articles below!

Free White Paper:

Instrument Calibration, System Verification, and Performance Validation for Mira

Post written by Dr. Melissa Gelwicks, Technical Writer at Metrohm Raman, Laramie, Wyoming (USA).