HolidayBuyer's Guide

LIBS sniffs out explosives

Inexpensive laser technique detects explosives from up to 60 feet away.

Photo by U.S. Army Research Laboratory

A simple and inexpensive analytical technique has made it possible to detect explosives from up to 60 feet away, a desirable commodity in an age of IEDs and suicide bombers and one that may become commercially available in the near future.

The U.S. Army Research Laboratory in Maryland has developed a system that detects explosive residues, using laser induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS) to identify the elemental composition of molecules. Refinement and standardization of this technique would fill a growing security and military need, researchers say.

"Currently there are no proven technologies that can accomplish residue explosives detection at a distance in a real-world scenario," said Jennifer Gottfried, who led the Army research team. And though the technology still needs to be "verified and validated in real-world applications," she is optimistic they will come up with a usable device. "We expect that this technology will be available commercially very soon."

Maybe sooner than expected. There's a race on from other labs to perfect the process.

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