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Fast, accurate detection of explosives on airport luggage possible

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Fast, highly reliable detection of residues that could indicate the presence of explosives and other hazardous materials inside luggage is now possible with technology under development at Purdue University.

A research team led by R. Graham Cooks has found a way to determine the presence on a surface of trace quantities of chemicals - such as those found in biological and chemical warfare agents, as well as several common explosives - within a few seconds. The researchers' method uses a tool common in many chemistry and biology labs called a mass spectrometer that has been modified to analyze samples directly from the environment rather than requiring the lengthy pre-treatment that laboratory mass spectrometry samples typically require.

According to Cooks, no portable device is currently on the market that can analyze samples in this manner. The team had previously developed a prototype device that detects nanogram-sized samples, but with recent improvements the device has proven successful at detecting at the picogram (trillionths of a gram) level in lab tests, about 1,000 times less material than previously required.

Cooks said he thinks a portable tool based on the technology could prove valuable for security in public places worldwide.

"In the amount of time it requires to take a breath, this technology can sniff the surface of a piece of luggage and determine whether a hazardous substance is likely to be inside, based on residual chemicals brushed from the hand of someone loading the suitcase," said Cooks, who is the Henry Bohn Hass Distinguished Professor of Analytical Chemistry in Purdue's College of Science. "We think it could be useful in screening suspect packages in airports, train stations and other places where there have been problems in the past. Because the technology works on other surfaces, such as skin and clothing, as well, it also could help determine whether an individual has been involved
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Contact: Chad Boutin
cboutin@purdue.edu
765-494-2081
Purdue University
30-Sep-2005


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