Isotope Hunter

Tracking origins and tracing identity: the Isotope Hunter follows the clues that history leaves behind in food or fiber, liquid or stone. Capture your samples’ stories with Thermo Scientific’s portfolio of isotope ratio mass spectrometers.

Follow the Isotope Hunter as he investigates the origin and authenticity of samples with isotope fingerprints. Using isotope ratio mass spectrometry (IRMS), the Isotope Hunter gains access to information on geographic region, botanical processes, soil and fertilization processes, and fraudulent practices. Are you an Isotope Hunter?

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Follow isotope fingerprints and uncover the history of your samples

Samples have an isotope fingerprint, a unique chemical signature that allows their history to be identified. To visualize this fingerprint, isotope ratio mass spectrometry is used. IRMS traces carbon, nitrogen, sulfur, oxygen, and hydrogen isotopes by detecting their natural variations, revealing the origin and history of samples.

Isotope fingerprints contain unique information about tested samples and are used in the following applications:

  • Food integrity: To investigate and verify the origin and authenticity of food and beverage samples.
  • Forensic investigation: To examine the differences and similarities of material samples as well as their origin.
  • Environmental analysis: To identify environmental sample as well as pollution origin and sources.  

Isotope fingerprints for forensic investigations

Isotope fingerprints for forensic investigations

During forensic investigations, samples are examined to determine their similarities or differences to each other, or to identify material origin. Identifying sample variation or origin is easily achieved because all materials have a unique chemical signature, which operates much like a fingerprint.

This chemical fingerprint can be visualized by Isotope Ratio Mass Spectrometry (IRMS), which measures the carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, sulfur, or oxygen isotopes in the sample and their variations. Isotopic measurements provide quantitative and empirical data that are reproducible and easy to validate.

Discover more about how isotope fingerprints can be used for forensic investigations by reading the following resources:

Verifying Food Origins Using Stable Isotopes

Dr. Simon Kelly, former Science Faculty Research Lab Manager at the University of East Anglia, UK, discusses the use of stable isotope analysis to detect cases of food adulteration.

Stable isotopes in commercial food authenticity testing

Dr. David Psomiadis, Laboratory Manager at Imprint Analytics, GmbH, discusses how stable isotope analysis is used to determine food geographic origin and authenticity.

How EA-IRMS works

Samples can be introduced into the IRMS and analyzed for their isotope fingerprints with various analytical peripherals (e.g., elemental analyzer). Using the Thermo Scientific EA IsoLink IRMS System, for example, a sample is converted to gas via two processes: combustion and pyrolysis. Combustion involves burning the sample at around 1000˚C in the presence of oxygen. During this process, carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur are generated as N2, CO2, and SO2. Pyrolysis involves breaking down the sample at 1400˚C in a reductive environment and generating hydrogen and oxygen in the form of H2 and CO. After the gases are produced, they are separated from one another using gas chromatography, followed by their transfer via continuous gas flow to a detector that measures the isotopic fingerprint of the sample.

Learn more

Learn more about the capabilities of our isotope ratio mass spectrometry portfolio for your origin and authenticity analyses.

View the IRMS portfolio