New portable device senses chemical weapons

Researchers at the University of Delaware have developed a portable detection platform that could provide real-time recognition of chemical and biological weapons using infrared spectroscopy.

A patent is pending on the Planar Array IR (PA-IR) spectrograph developed by John Rabolt, chairperson of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, and Mei-Wei Tsao, research professor in that department.

The device, which is now about the size of a large shoebox, can detect even small amounts of chemical weapons agents in solid, liquid or vapor phases.

It is also possible that the device can sense chemical agents at a distance, although Rabolt said further research on that is now being conducted. We are planning to test the detectivity of our new PA-IR using a telescopic collection system that should be able to detect the presence of certain chemical agents at large distances away from our detector, he said.

Using the analyte, or the compound that can be analyzed, that is specific to a given biological agent, the device can easily and quickly sense the agents presence. Adding a series of such sensors near the at-risk sites could report back real-time findings via wireless transmitters, Rabolt said.

Although its ability to detect chemical and biological weapons is of great interest given the recent terrorist attacks, the device also has broad industrial applications. It can be used to make real-time measurements of the thickness and chemical composition of various films, coatings and liquids.

Our PA-IR system will enable companies that run production lines at extremely fast speeds to cut down on waste by keeping better track of imperfections or variations in product quality as it is being manufactured, Rabolt said.

Advantages of the new UD system over other spectroscopy devices are high sensitivity, fast data acquisition and the absence of moving parts. It is the latter that makes the PA-IR rugged, portab

Contact: Neil Thomas
University of Delaware

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