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Editor's Blog and Industry Comments

American Scientists develop explosive particle detector

29 May, 2008
San Diego university researchers have come up with a method of detecting the tiniest traces of nitrogen based explosive materials.
With detection levels in the picogram range, a new surface trace detection method for uncovering explosive materials can detect even the most minute traces of nitrogen based explosives such as TNT and trinitroglycerine.

The technique is to spray the surface to be analysed, allow it to dry and then expose it to ultraviolet light at which point any explosive materials will reveal themselves as blue or green-yellow fluorescent spots depending on the type of explosive. The developers of this method claim the high sensitivity levels are based on particle detection techniques rather than the more traditional vapour sniffers used by existing explosive detection equipment.

The detection spray has its limits however, and can't be used for detecting peroxide based explosives or those using organic nitrates although the team from San Diego is now working on it.

Homeland security is driving considerable activity both in terms of basic research and the development of new security applications, particularly in the field of detection for screening at transport hubs. The imperative to create workable applications can lead to solutions being implemented which aren't fully developed and although the Californian university team should be congratulated for developing a new detection method, the commercialisation of this technique should be based on a robust, repeatable and high throughput technology that has a low error rate. This is the task of RedXDefense who are bringing the technology to commercial levels. Detecting trace particles at such miniscule levels using a chemical process is bound to have drawbacks in terms of error rates, especially in the detection of compounds that have numerous natural and benign uses in society.

The responsibility to come up with a system that doesn't inaccurately detain innocent people and conversely lull the population into a false sense of security whilst allowing threats to slip through the net lies currently lies with RedXDefense.
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