ALBUQUERQUE, NM -- A portable chemical sensor system the size of a soccer ball being developed by scientists at the Department of Energy's Sandia National Laboratories, promises a new way of detecting and identifying even the smallest traces of explosives under water, whether in a rice paddy or deep in the ocean.
The chemical sensor system consists of separate components that take a sample of liquid drawn from water surrounding submerged objects containing explosives, extract the molecules of interest on a fiber, desorb the molecules from the fiber into an Ion Mobility Spectrometer (IMS) and identify the explosive based on chemical signatures of the material.
"This system will fill a unique niche," says Ron Woodfin, project manager. "Unlike the commonly used anomaly detectors, such as metal detectors or ground-penetrating radar, the IMS analyzes the material's actual molecular makeup to identify the explosive type. Its best role is not as a search device, but as a classifier or identifier."
At the heart of the system is a concentration technology that gathers samples on a fiber and concentrates it thousands of times, making the levels large enough to analyze.
Ron assembled a team with Phil Rodacy serving as the technical lead to develop the sensor system. They miniaturized the IMS, reducing it from a commercially made 30-pound shoebox size device to a five-pound unit that fits in a person's hand. When complete, the entire sensor system, including the IMS, concentrator, computer, display and batteries will weigh no more than 20 pounds and be the size of a soccer ball. The small size will make it practical and affordable, the team says.
Through a series of experiments performed at the US Navy facility at San
Clemente Island off the coast of San Diego in 1996-98, another in the waters
near Panama City, Fla., last year and most recently this August and September in
Halifax, Nova Scotia, the researchers showed that the detection system works.
Contact: Chris Burroughs
DOE/Sandia National Laboratories