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TIP OF THE MONTH 11 : Vacuum technology catches drug-takers

I heard that drug-takers can be caught by the addition of a special molecule to the doping substance by the manufacturer. How does this work ?

TIP OF THE MONTH 11 : Vacuum technology catches drug-takers

ANSWER: Doping analysis functions by a combination of the isolation of a chemical substance from a mixture and the subsequent identification of the banned component, mostly by a mass spectrometer.

BACKGROUND: The athletes provide a urine sample to the doping control station. This sample is then processed by extracting with a solvent for example. Now the sample can be analysed.

Analysis proceeds by separating the mixture using gas or liquid chromatography. The individual components are then identified with a mass spectrometer. The banned substances leave behind a characteristic fingerprint in the mass spectrum which is then used to identify the component. Even when these substances are contaminated with masking chemicals, a clear/unambiguous identification occurs by chemical manipulation (Derivatization) or further development of the analysis technology (high-definition mass spectrometry, isotope mass spectrometry).

The analysis method applied is, incidentally, closely related to the detector in a commercial helium-leak testing device. Whatever mass spectrometer process is used however in each case – it is always vacuum technology that comes into play.


Chemical analysis: The chemical analysis is a sub-area of chemistry, that contains the examination technology for the composition of substances.

Chromatography: Chromatography is a chemical process that allows the separation of a substance mixture by different separations of its individual component parts between a stationary (for example, of a discharge) and a mobile phase (for example, of a solvent).

Derivatization: In chemistry, a derivative is described as a derived substance with a similar structure to a corresponding base substance. Derivates are substances that contain, instead of an H-atom or a functional group, another atom or another atom group and from which one or more atoms/atom groups are removed. The manufacture of a derivative is described as derivatization. Organic chemistry describes multi-atom components of molecules, that significantly agree with the chemical characteristics of the molecules as functional groups.

Doping: Doping is the sampling of inadmissible substances or the use of inadmissible methods to increase performance in sport.

Extraction: Extraction is a process of separating substances where a component is dissolved out of a solid or liquid mixture with help of a solvent. The solvent pulls the substance, better soluble in it, out of the mixture.

Isotope: Isotopes are atom core types (Nuclide) with the same atomic number (that is, the same amount of protons), but a different mass number (different number of neutrons).

Mass spectrometry: Mass spectrometry is a process for measuring the mass-to-charge-ratio of particles. If the charge of the particle = 1 in the simplest case, the mass of the respective particle can be directly determined.

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