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Forensic Chemistry Facilities

The forensic chemistry laboratory and upper-level analytical chemistry laboratory classes are held in Clippinger labs Room 193. The room is 940 square feet and provides ample bench space for instruments and sample preparation.


Analytical instrumentation includes common instruments found in most crime labs as well as some cutting-edge or more specialized techniques. Undergraduate students also have the opportunity to work on research-grade instrumentation in the research labs of the analytical chemistry faculty. Below is a list of most of our instruments.

Polarized Light Microscopes

The program has three polarized light microscopes including an Olympus model, a Meiji model and a LOMO POLAM L-213 Polarized Light Microscope with a broad range of features for examining trace evidence. The 3.0 Mp camera provides high quality images and video capabilities.

Comparison Microscope

The comparison microscope is used primarily for bullet and casing comparisons.


The HP1050 High pressure liquid chromatography (HPLC) system and is used in the separations and forensic chemistry labs to analyze caffeine in beverages, drug metabolites in urine.

Luminescence Spectrometer

Although rarely used in real crime labs, the Perkin Elmer LS45 is great for studying chemiluminescence reactions or for identifying luminescent compounds in solution. Among other labs, students use this instrument to identify quinine in beverages.

Shimadzu GC/MS

The gold-standard in forensic labs is the Shmadzu GC/MS. This instrument is used to detect ignitable liquid residues in carpet samples (i.e. the arson lab), for confirming the identity of drugs of abuse and several other labs.


Students usually prescreen arson samples on the HP 5890 or HP 6890 GC-FID (flame-ionization detector). The FID detector is more robust than the mass spectrometer detector, although the FID is less specific and does not provide structural information.

Raman Spectrometer

Although rarely used in real crime labs, students use the portable Ocean Optics R3000 Raman system to analyze drugs of abuse, polymers and pharmaceuticals.

UV-Vis Spectrophotometer

UV-Vis absorption spectroscopy is used quite often in crime labs to help identify drugs and trace evidence in solutions. Students use a portable version by Ocean Optics, the USB2000.


A staple of most crime labs and trace-evidence labs, the Perkin Elmer Spotlight 150 is a state-of-the-art FTIR system. The instrument is used for confirming the identity of drugs of abuse.


The Varian VISTA-MPX inductively coupled plasma optical emission spectrophotometer (ICP-OES) employs a CCD-detector to enable multiple elements to be analyzed simultaneously. Students use the instrument for gunshot residue analysis, trace elements in human hair, and elemental composition of foods (in the spectroscopy lab). ICPs are the workhorses of many industrial and environmental labs.


The Perkin Elmer Elan 6000 has considerably lower limits of detection compared to the ICP-OES. With the mass spectrometer detector, our detection limits are in the parts-per-trillion level. We use the instrument to complement the ICP-OES for gun shot residue analysis, trace elements in human hair and elemental composition of foods (in the spectroscopy lab). ICPs are the workhorses of many industrial and environmental labs.   

Atomic Absorption with Graphite Furnace

The Perkin Elmer AAnalyst 300 is used to detect trace elements (like mercury, lead, barium etc.) in environmental (e.g. river water or soil) or forensic (e.g. GSR swabs) samples. AA instruments are not very common in crime labs, but they are used extensively in industrial and environmental labs.

Additional Resources

Forensic chemistry students also have access to various other instruments outside of the forensic chemistry laboratory. The commonly used instruments are provided below.

Genetic Analyzer

The forensic chemistry laboratory includes a DNA profiling lab. Students spend two days in the genomics facility and perform PCR and genetic profiling on their ABI 3100XL 16 capillary electrophoresis system.

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