The technique could eventually help track down perpetrators of chemical or nerve gas attacks by identifying the sources of raw ingredients for the agents used in the attacks, an article in the journal Analytical Chemistry said.
Researchers say a method called "impurity profiling" can identify impurities in a chemical sample at a crime scene and match them like a fingerprint to the impurities in the original source chemicals, pinpointing the likely origin of the materials.
As much as 88 percent of impurities in source chemicals can wind up in the finished product, they said.
Using standard laboratory instruments, researchers performed impurity profiling and correctly identified the starting materials used for two different batches of a nerve agent.
"This remarkable outcome may one day become a basis for using impurity profiling to help find and prosecute perpetrators of chemical attacks," the researchers said.
Funding for the research came from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.