Director, CARFS; Professor, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry; Director, Trace Evidence Analysis Facility; Emeritus Director, International Forensic Research Institute
José R. Almirall is a Professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and Director of the International Forensic Research Institute at Florida International University. He was a practicing forensic scientist at the Miami-Dade Police Department Crime Laboratory for 12 years, where he testified in over 100 criminal cases in state and federal courts prior to his academic appointment at FIU in 1998. Professor Almirall has authored one book and 129 peer-reviewed scientific publications in the field of analytical and forensic chemistry and presented ~ 650 papers and workshops in the U.S., Europe, Central and South America, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and South Africa. The interests of Prof. Almirall’s research group include fundamental analytical chemistry and the development of analytical chemistry tools for use in forensic science including materials analyses using LA-ICP-MS and LIBS, drug and explosives detection by a variety of methods and the interpretation of forensic evidence that leads to quantitative and objective descriptions of the strength of chemical data in forensic casework. He has mentored 10 post-doctoral fellows and visiting scientists, 27 PhD and 21 MS students in Chemistry research. His research group has filed several disclosures and received four (4) patents from technology developed at FIU and also received ~ $ 8 million in research funding from federal agencies such as the NSF, NIST, DHS, DoD, NIJ, TSWG and from industry sources. Prof. Almirall is a Fellow of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS), the founding chairman of the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC) of the AAFS, past Chair of the SWGMAT Glass subgroup, a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Forensic Sciences and Editor-in-Chief of Forensic Chemistry, an Elsevier journal. He was appointed to the Scientific Advisory Committee of the Commonwealth of Virginia by the Governor of Virginia and served in that capacity for 10 years. He also serves as a consultant to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on the forensic analysis of materials. He was recently (2015) appointed to serve on the Forensic Science Standards Board (FSSB) of the NIST-sponsored Organization of Scientific Area Committees (OSAC) and serves as chair of the Chemistry and Instrumental Analysis SAC of the OSAC. He chaired an AAAS Fire Scene Investigation working group that recently published a report resulting from the work of the group. Prof. Almirall is interested in commercializing technology developed in his laboratory and has started a company (AirChemistry, LLC) for this purpose. He was an NSF I-Corps awardee (2015) and the PI for the NSF IUCRC CARFS Research Site Award to FIU.
General Research Areas
- Development and application of analytical chemistry tools to enhance the value of scientific evidence including the improvement of the interpretation of data derived from the analysis of evidence.
- Detection and identification of organic compounds of forensic interest such as controlled substances and explosives in the field or through use of field-portable detectors such as Ion Mobility Spectrometers. Coupling of portable sampling to detection/analysis of odor compounds of drugs, explosives, and other volatiles.
- Development of methodology for the characterization of materials using elemental analysis, specifically the determination of ultra-trace quantities of metals in glass and other matrices using LA-ICP-MS, u-XRF and LIBS and organic and inorganic characterization of trace evidence.
CARFS Funded Projects
- Development of a LIBS Database for the Forensic Interpretation of Glass Evidence: The proposed project aims to standardize the analysis and interpretation of glass evidence using Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS). A parallel study involving the analysis of 420 vehicle glass samples using Laser Ablation-Inductively Coupled Plasma-Mass Spectrometry (LA-ICP-MS) is currently underway in our research group. Preliminary results indicate that a likelihood ratio approach to evidence interpretation, through the use of a LA-ICP-MS glass database, yields low error rates for the assignment of the weight of glass evidence. However, LA-ICP-MS is a costly, complex analytical technique and may be impractical to implement in every forensic laboratory for routine casework. This project aims to demonstrate that LIBS may provide an inexpensive alternative that yields comparable discrimination power to LA-ICP-MS for the elemental analysis of vehicle glass comparisons. The likelihood ratio provides a continuous numerical, quantitative and objective, assessment of evidence interpretation. However, the estimation of a likelihood ratio requires a database. At Florida International University (FIU), a large vehicle glass collection of up to 538 samples is available in order to generate a LIBS glass database to be used for likelihood ratio estimates (420 of which have already been analyzed by LA-ICP-MS). The overall aims of this proposal are to a) develop a methodology for the quantitative analysis of glass using LIBS, b) compare the analytical figures of merit between LIBS and LA-ICP-MS, c) generate a LIBS glass database of the 420 samples, d) calculate likelihood ratios based on the database, and e) establish a standardized methodology for the analysis and interpretation of glass evidence using LIBS.
- Dynamic Air Sampling and Analysis of Gasoline using CMV-DART-qTOF-MS (with Dr. Hall, NEU): Equilibrium sampling of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from fire debris using an FIU proprietary technology, Capillary Microextractor of Volatiles (CMV) is coupled to DART-qTOF-MS to detect biomarkers of gasoline. VOCs sampled and preconcentrated on the CMV device are thermally desorbed using a DART interface coupled to qTOF-MS. Data analysis routines are used to identify the biomarkers without the need for a separation step. The CMV is composed of PDMS sorbent-coated glass microfibers with an ultra-high surface area that can adsorb volatiles when air is dynamically sampled through the device. The CMV is small (2cm x 2mm), inexpensive and very easy to use to sample and pre-concentrate sub-ng quantities of semivolatile organic compounds (SVOCs) characteristic of gasoline biomarkers, from air, in less than 1 minute. The CMV is coupled to a DART source for gasoline analysis, for the first time.