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Chemical Analysis

Headspace gas chromatography/mass spectrometry is used to identify volatile compounds given off by a material.


Solid or liquid samples are sealed in headspace vials.  The headspace vials are heated to drive the volatile compounds into the gas phase.  Sample vials can be agitated during heating. A gas-tight syringe is used to sample the headspace in the vials for GC/MS analysis.  If greater sensitivity is required, solid phase micro-extraction (SPME) can be used to concentrate volatiles prior to GC/MS analysis.

Sample Considerations

Virtually any sample that can be made to fit into a headspace vial or sampling bag can be tested.  However, the sample matrix itself should not be highly volatile. The required sample size for headspace GC/MS is inversely proportional to the concentration(s) of volatile compounds that must be detected or quantified. A sample size of 0.1 g to 10 g is typical for headspace GC/MS.  Samples should be sent packaged separately from one another in tightly sealed containers that don’t off-gas volatiles. Contact an expert to talk about your specific sample considerations and chromatography testing needs.


We thoroughly enjoy these projects; they tend to be extremely unique and interesting.  Some examples include:

  • Identification of source of foul smell coming from a popular snack food
  • Identification of odor coming from mulch on a playground
  • Analysis of strong and objectionable odor coming from dog food containers
  • Identification of compounds responsible for off-odor in post-consumer recycled carpet