Journal of Chemical Ecology

, Volume 44, Issue 2, pp 103–110 | Cite as

A Technique for Thermal Desorption Analyses Suitable for Thermally-Labile, Volatile Compounds

  • Hans T. AlbornEmail author


Many plant and insect interactions are governed by odors released by the plants or insects and there exists a continual need for new or improved methods to collect and identify these odors. Our group has for some time studied below-ground, plant-produced volatile signals affecting nematode and insect behavior. The research requires repeated sampling of volatiles of intact plant/soil systems in the laboratory as well as the field with the help of probes to minimize unwanted effects on the systems we are studying. After evaluating solid adsorbent filters with solvent extraction or solid phase micro extraction fiber sample collection, we found dynamic sampling of small air volumes on Tenax TA filters followed by thermal desorption sample introduction to be the most suitable analytical technique for our applications. Here we present the development and evaluation of a low-cost and relatively simple thermal desorption technique where a cold trap cooled with liquid carbon dioxide is added as an integral part of a splitless injector. Temperature gradient-based focusing and low thermal mass minimizes aerosol formation and eliminates the need for flash heating, resulting in low sample degradation comparable to solvent-based on-column injections. Additionally, since the presence of the cold trap does not affect normal splitless injections, on-the-fly switching between splitless and thermal desorption modes can be used for external standard quantification.


GC/MS Thermal desorption Thermally labile compounds Root volatiles Trace analysis Pregeijerene Ruta graveolens 



The author would like to thank Steve Willms for design and construction of the control box and for making it all work and to Robert Bruton for improving the trap and for never complaining when yet another system was requested to be fabricated. Also, a special thanks to Heather McAuslane, Sandy Allen, John Beck and David Hall for valuable comments and suggestions to improve the manuscript.

Supplementary material

10886_2018_924_MOESM1_ESM.docx (1.9 mb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 1965 kb)


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Copyright information

© This is a U.S. government work and its text is not subject to copyright protection in the United States; however, its text may be subject to foreign copyright protection 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Center for Medical Agricultural and Veterinary EntomologyAgricultural Research Service, US Department of AgricultureGainesvilleUSA

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