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Sugar or Fentanyl? Chemical Detection Libraries to Support Testing and Evaluation

Defense Human Health

Partnership, Expertise, and Access Benefit Customers

Our teams of scientists and engineers are committed to providing innovative solutions to the important challenges presented by our clients. Specifically, our CBRNE team’s experience includes assessing benchtop, handheld, and mobile detection systems. But before that equipment goes into the field, it must first be tested and evaluated to ensure that it will work as intended when you need it. That’s when our development of chemical detection libraries for use in the testing and evaluation of their detection equipment is critically important.  

Use of Chemical Detection Libraries

This is approximately 2 mg of
fentanyl – a potentially lethal dose.

Chemical detection libraries are a collection of unique chemical signatures that enable the identification of a chemical. These signatures can be common, such as an optical spectra (such as a FTIR or Raman spectra) or a mass fragmentation pattern (such as a mass spectrum), or they can be truly unique based on the detection platform and an aggregate profile of several raw signatures A library is built by analyzing known chemicals with referenced purities, under known conditions. Depending on the detection system, libraries can be built that house hundreds, thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of chemicals.  

The chemical library is then used as the reference to verify threat identity. As our team tests and evaluates chemical detection equipment by analyzing a substance, they check the result against a chemical library to evaluate accuracy. As they then analyze a “white powdery” substance, this enables them to distinguish between substances like sugar and fentanyl. 

Development of Chemical Detection Libraries
There are several activities we can perform to assist customers with library development: 

  • Recommend and select the most appropriate libraries for their needs; 
  • Purchase or synthesize (if purchasing is not an option) the reference materials;  
  • Conduct analysis of the materials and review all the data to ensure library quality; and,  
  • Build the libraries and conduct QA testing to confirm library matching.  

Our choice of the laboratory we perform this work in is dependent on the libraries we are developing. For example, optical libraries typically require neat chemical analysis, so when developing chemical warfare agent (CWA) libraries, that analysis is conducted in our neat agent facility. When not working with CWA’s, most of our laboratories are designed with chemical fume hoods, which enable handling of the chemicals and quantities that are needed for this task.  

Our expertise in library development is rooted in data interpretation. Our scientists who review chemical spectra data must have a level of expertise to determine whether that data is of a high enough quality to be included in a chemical library. That requires knowledge of the type of spectra, understanding whether the spectra are correct, and identifying whether any additional signatures are present that should not be.  

Support for Testing and Evaluation
Manufacturers come to us to make libraries of chemicals that they cannot handle, such as CWAs, controlled substances, explosives, and others. We also have government customers who request their own custom libraries for off-line field use. 

The same equipment manufacturer customers who request chemical libraries made of items they cannot work with often have test and evaluation needs, as they would like 3rd party validation reports of their systems. We also have end users of the detection systems who request custom libraries made for their systems, along with special testing that they would like conducted to verify the accuracy of those systems. 

After development of the library, we will review it thoroughly. This includes conducting QA testing, where we test the library with items from the library to confirm positive matches. Once review and QA testing is complete, we deliver the library to the customer. 

Working in Partnership with Customers
We also work in partnership with customers to review our data as it is collected. This is typically done for systems that are unique. We have also prepared the samples and had customers come on-site with their devices to perform the data analysis themselves. We are happy to work in a partnership that best suits their needs. 

Though we don’t typically store and maintain these libraries for our customers, we can do so through an operation and maintenance (O&M) contract. We also perform equipment operation and maintenance service for customers, including repairs as well as software and library updates and maintenance, not to mention the hundreds of government end-users we regularly train on the proper use of field equipment. 

Our Differentiator is Our Expertise and Access
We have worked with chemical libraries of all sizes and data types. Typically, customers will have a new library addition or annual updates that they want to build, or perhaps a customer asks us to validate the accuracy of another’s library. For example, when the Novichok agents were declassified, we had several customers who specifically wanted to add these agents to their libraries.   

Having worked with multiple technologies and reviewed thousands of data files, MRIGlobal’s depth of expertise is a significant benefit to our customers. We understand what the reference data should look like and we take the time to ensure that the library data is high quality and performs as it should. We also have access to materials most laboratories cannot handle. When a manufacturer would like CWAs or the newest fentanyl analogs added to their libraries, we can do that. Also, we are flexible to our customers’ needs. When a customer needs libraries completed next week or would like to be on-site to work in partnership with us, we work to make that happen. Read more about our work at “Testing and Evaluation with Decades of Expertise, World-Class Laboratories.”



Contact MRIGlobal to learn more about our work in defense against chemical and biological threats. We partner with our clients to test and evaluate current methods to detect, prevent, decontaminate, protect, and destroy these materials. 

If you are part of an agency, business, or academic institution seeking assistance with a project, use our Project Quote Tool to get started. 

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