The June edition of National Defense has this short tech talk article about a new chem-bio detector produced by Purdue University. If successful, it could be a useful tool for people searching bags or containers for chem-bio agents or as a quick forensic tool at a terrorist chem-bio incident.
Miniature chemical-biological detection devices, that in the future could be deployed in wireless networks to protect buildings, subways and airports, have been perfected by scientists from Purdue University in Lafayette, Ind.Prototypes of the handheld mass spectrometers called Mini 10s are able to quickly identify traces of the triacetone triperoxide that was used in the London subway bombing and is found in many improvised explosive devices. Many other materials, including TNT and plastic explosives, have been tagged.Test results are produced in seconds, which compares to the current method of collecting samples and then dispatching them to a laboratory for identification.It may be slightly premature to run out and place stocks into this product's future manufacturer, though. What the National Defense article didn't mention, but the researchers admit, is that this is just a prototype design that could use a few more years of testing and design work.
Sampling is done with a long, tubelike wand that both delivers the gas and sucks up the resulting ionized compound. It is this wand that the team likens to their bloodhounds new nose. The wands tip must come within 5 millimeters of the sample to be effective, but the group has also found a way to build a mass spectrometer that weighs about 18 kilograms (40 pounds), which means it can be carried to the sample, rather than forcing investigators to bring the sample to it."This backpack-size device will be useful for field analysis of chemicals, filling a need in airport baggage security and drug detection," said Wiseman, a graduate student working on the project. "While the technique obviously cannot look inside packages to see what is inside, residue from explosives and drugs often remains on the hands of whoever packed it, and some is transferred during handling to the packages surface. That remaining residue is what this device will be good for detecting."While the team is optimistic about the devices potential for application in the lab and on the street, Gologan cautioned that a better understanding of its functioning was still needed.Still, it's an interesting concept. I would hazard a guess that the military's laboratories are too focused on developing future gear for military combat operations - not that anything new has come out of the DOD's Chemical-Biological Defense Program for a few years now - and DHS's laboratories have relied too much on unrealistic R&D projects from the National Labs to have any new equipment, either. Good to see that we have universities and industry to rely on for future combating terrorist WMD tools.-- Jason Sigger, Armchair Generalist