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Quick and easy explosive detector kit

Lawrence Livermore Laboratory develops the 'ELITE'

Lawrence Livermore Lab

"Hey! Who left that package there?" Today that question triggers an avalanche of the latest bomb-disposal gear, not to mention the obligatory traffic jam that ensues. But now you can defuse that situation yourself if the bomb squad isn't around the corner.

Today a $10, pocket-sized explosive detector called "ELITE" (for Easy Livermore Inspection Test for Explosives) puts you in charge--at least until you touch the wrong wire. The 5- by 7.5-centimeter device requires minimal training to quickly and cheaply locate and identify up to 30 types of explosives and propellants. The card gives immediate results and can be discarded afterwards with no special handling, according to Lawrence Livermore Laboratory's Forensic Science Center.

To collect a sample, remove a swipe from the card, rub it on the suspicious object and slide it back in. Voila--within a minute an explosive trace, if present, will appear as a brightly colored spot on the white swipe. "The way it works, it takes two different types of chemistry. When these chemistries come into contact with explosives, there's a color change," explained Lawrence Lab chemist Peter Nunes. For instance, purple indicates TNT. The cards can detect everything from military-grade C-4 and Semtex explosives to your backyard concoctions of ammonium nitrate or black powder.

The ELITE has an indefinite shelf life, which makes it perfect for storage in your bunker. And don't worry: "Instructions are printed right on the card, so user error is largely eliminated."