UF researchers refine system to detect explosive materials

June 10, 2011 by John Dunn

Airport security workers this year will employ an array of pre-boarding detection measures to scan for deadly materials smuggled into the luggage of the world’s 625 million passengers expected to travel this year.

None, however, yet uses what researchers at the University of Florida believe is the world’s first explosive detection system that utilizes ultraviolet light to zero in on specks of dangerous explosives found on these items.

“We are absolutely the only one using differential reflectometry,” said one of the system’s inventors, Rolf Hummel, a professor emeritus in UF’s department of materials science and engineering.

Hummel also thinks that had his team’s detection system been in place last October, it would have detected an explosive package disguised as a printing toner before it slipped past airport inspectors in Yemen and ended aboard a jet in Dubai preparing to fly to the U.S. A tip from intelligence agents, not technology, eventually averted a tragedy.

The also may have provided an extra layer of protection to airport workers. “Our goal,” said Hummel, “for our technology is for it to make speedy decisions at security check points and minimize the involvement of human beings to keep them safe.”

The fully automated device is based on patented technology pioneered at UF five years ago by Hummel and fellow UF researcher Paul Holloway that utilizes the science of differential reflectometry.

The scanning process begins when UV light shines on pieces of moving on a conveyor belt commonly used in systems. Any residual amounts of TNT or any other explosive powder on the surface of these objects absorb the incoming light at specific varying wavelengths, depending on the chemical makeup of the material. The system instantly provides a spectrographic analysis of the absorption spectrum of the light after it has been reflected back into the device.

The computer compares this “fingerprint” with those of known explosives stored in its memory. If a match occurs, the device beeps to alert security officers.

Programmers also have equipped the system’s computer with algorithms — a sort of digital instruction manual — that are designed to allow the detection device to consider all the possibilities that are sent to it, including fingerprints of new or unknown explosive materials that may emerge in the future, explained Thierry Dubroca, a UF postdoctoral research associate, working on the project.

“Fingerprints of explosive materials,” he said, “are unique and very recognizable.”

Dubroca also is the CEO of Delta R. Detection, a Gainesville-based startup now gearing up to license the UF-patented technology to tap the growing worldwide explosives detection market, estimated to exceed $3 billion in the U.S. market alone.

So far, the research team has received about $1.4 million in federal, state and private money for product development.

Said Hummel: “I’ve been a scientist for 50 years and I’ve always wanted to something that really helps mankind. “I now feel satisfaction.“

Explore further: New sensor nanotechnology simplifies disease detection

Related Stories

New sensor nanotechnology simplifies disease detection

October 4, 2010

Researchers at Stony Brook University have developed a new sensor nanotechnology that could revolutionize personalized medicine by making it possible to instantly detect and monitor disease by simply exhaling once into a ...

Researchers create novel nanoantennas

May 4, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- A team of plasmonics researchers has developed a novel type of nanoantenna that could lead to advances in drug and explosives detection.

Understanding the social side of cyber-security issues

May 4, 2011

When Engin Kirda started focusing on cyber-security research 10 years ago, those primarily responsible for launching Internet attacks were teenagers out for kicks, he said. But the scope of threats existing through the Web ...

Recommended for you

The ethics of robot love

November 25, 2015

There was to have been a conference in Malaysia last week called Love and Sex with Robots but it was cancelled. Malaysian police branded it "illegal" and "ridiculous". "There is nothing scientific about sex with robots," ...

Glider pilots aim for the stratosphere

November 20, 2015

Talk about serendipity. Einar Enevoldson was strolling past a scientist's office in 1991 when he noticed a freshly printed image tacked to the wall. He was thunderstruck; it showed faint particles in the sky that proved something ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Jun 10, 2011
which is why photobags have been utilized as well as hermetically sealed plastics to deal with photospectroscopy, terror cells aren't stupid

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.