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The use of a developed novel adsorbent for sampling of suspects hands for ignitable liquid residues

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Applications accepted all year round
  • Self-Funded PhD Students Only
    Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About This PhD Project

Project Description

Research Group: Forensic & Investigative Sciences Research Group -

Proposed supervisory team: Dr Sarah Hall ()

Theme: Crime Scene and Evidence, Forensic Analysis

Summary of the research project

Background: A novel adsorbent has been developed at Anglia Ruskin University that has been proved to recover a good range of ignitable liquid residues (ILRs) from hard surfaces in a fire scene. We have found that different methods and ad-hoc materials are used to recover ILRs when direct sampling is difficult. However, these methods are unable to recover all target compounds for the positive identification of ILRs and therefore, are not fit for purpose and could lead to the misinterpretation of evidence in court. Our novel adsorbent works for a large range of ignitable liquids, is inexpensive, doesn’t interfere with investigative processes or analysis, inert, easy to use at scene and therefore could be adopted by fire investigators. The investigation of the recovery ability was carried out using Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry and Auto Thermal Desorption Gas Chromatography- Mass Spectrometry using an international standard method and has also been successfully tested using blind trials at a cold fire scene in collaboration with Cambridgeshire and Essex’s Fire and Rescue Services. The research has been presented at international conferences, resulted in a successful completion of a PhD and has been published in the Journal of Analytical and Applied Pyrolysis.

We are now currently wishing to develop this research area by using the novel adsorbent we have developed to sample suspects hands for the presence of ignitable liquids. Some initial research has been carried out on porcine skin to investigate the recovery of ILRs to mimic human skin. We are now want to investigate the adsorbents use on human hands. This is in light of the need for a simple, easy and cheap sampling method when compared to the current methods being used. Our method using the novel adsorbent doesn’t require heating or the suspect to be transported to the laboratory. Therefore it does not exhibit problems when trying to collecting vapours and the loss in sample/evidence and therefore could also provide increased detection sensitivity when compared to some current techniques.

Main goal: Investigate the use of a developed novel adsorbent for sampling the presence of ignitable liquids from hands. There are three main objectives:

1. Comparison of other methods published or available to Fire investigator for sampling not only petrol but other medium and heavy distillates from suspect’s hands.

2. To investigate the mechanism of adsorption of an ILR from skin using the adsorbent.

3. Develop a protocol and kit that is inexpensive and easy to use at a fire scene.

Methodology: Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry and Auto Thermal Desorption Gas Chromatography- Mass Spectrometry, plus research via blind cold scene trials.

Outcomes: The Police and Fire and Rescue Services have already contacted us (Head of Forensic Science at triforce, Essex’s Fire and Rescue), with interest in such an area. As when arriving at a fire and walking through onlookers or either interviewing suspects, they often smell an odour of petrol or ignitable liquid. Therefore, they wish for a method to be developed that is safer, cheaper and easier to use which is beneficial to the service providers and is harmless to the suspect. Therefore this research will provide a standard easy to follow protocol with an easy to use sampling kit. In addition, not only will be published in academic journals but will be disseminated to service providers at conferences and meetings.

Where you’ll study:

Cambridge -


This project is self-funded.

Details of studentships for which funding is available are selected by a competitive process and are advertised on our jobs website as they become available:

Next steps

If you wish to be considered for this project, you will need to apply for our Forensic & Investigative Sciences PhD ( In the section of the application form entitled ’Outline research proposal’, please quote the above title and include a research proposal.

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