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Forensic laboratories face issues with large backlogs on evidence needing to be analyzed is due to two reasons: budgeting issues and the emergence of designer drugs. Currently, forensic laboratory directors cite that there are a shortage of scientists to deal with the yearly increase in caseloads. Additionally, designer drugs like synthetic cathinones, commonly known as “bath salts,” have increased the backlog due to the changing chemical compositions and misidentification as other compounds. Therefore, the use of a portable mass spectrometer for on-site forensic chemical analysis of synthetic cathinones would reduce the backlog of suspected controlled substances in forensic chemistry laboratories. A comparison of research on gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS), typically used in forensic laboratories, and ambient mass spectrometry, an upcoming method, was conducted to determine which technique would be more suitable for on-site analysis of synthetic cathinones. Ambient mass spectrometry techniques are proven to successfully analyze these evidence samples without degradation and to be employed in the field without extensive power requirements at a low cost. Also, ambient mass spectrometry methods are able to be conducted by non-technical operators. Through use of portable ambient mass spectrometry techniques, synthetic cathinones would be accurately identified in the field, reducing the strain of the backlog in forensic laboratories. Future studies are needed to make the analysis of a spectrum coming from an ambient mass spectrometer easier for non-technical operators to identify synthetic cathinones.

Publication Date


Subject Major(s)

Forensic Science, Chemistry


forensic laboratory backlog, portable instrumentation, on-site analysis, bath salts, synthetic cathinones, gas chromatography-mass spectrometry, ambient ionization, desorption electrospray ionization mass spectrometry, direct analysis in real time mass spectrometry, GC-MS, DESI-MS, DART-MS


Analytical Chemistry | Other Chemistry | Other Physical Sciences and Mathematics

Current Academic Year


Faculty Advisor/Mentor

Mary Boyes


© The Author(s)

Forensic Chemical Analysis of Synthetic Cathinones Using Portable Mass Spectrometric Instrumentation