The current role of mass spectrometry in forensics and future prospects†
Mass spectrometry (MS) techniques are highly prevalent in crime laboratories, particularly those coupled to chromatographic separations like gas chromatography (GC) and liquid chromatography (LC). These methods are considered “gold standard” analytical techniques for forensic analysis and have been extensively validated for producing prosecutorial evidentiary data. However, factors such as growing evidence backlogs and problematic evidence types (e.g., novel psychoactive substance (NPS) classes) have exposed limitations of these stalwart techniques. This critical review serves to delineate the current role of MS methods across the broad sub-disciplines of forensic science, providing insight on how governmental steering committees guide their implementation. Novel, developing techniques that seek to broaden applicability and enhance performance will also be highlighted, from unique modifications to traditional hyphenated MS methods to the newer “ambient” MS techniques that show promise for forensic analysis, but need further validation before incorporation into routine forensic workflows. This review also expounds on how recent improvements to MS instrumental design, scan modes, and data processing could cause a paradigm shift in how the future forensic practitioner collects and processes target evidence.