Research Projects

Remote Sensing of Explosives

R&D Team: Dr. Rolf Hummel1, Dr. Paul Holloway1, Ms. Anna Fuller1.

1Department of Materials Science and Engineering.

Opportunity and Impact: This technology has been demonstrated to detect not only traces of explosives, but also illegal drugs. It may also identify other possibly dangerous chemicals. It therefore has multiple applications in the following locations: Airports, Sports events, Border crossings, Federal buildings, Military installations, Peacekeeping & armament control, Railways, Subway terminals, cargo, and on humans. DRS is particularly useful because the instrument is portable, small, fast, and allows the identification of different explosive species. Most of all the explosives do not have to be brought in close proximity to the detector and does not need to be ingested into an instrument.

After September 11th, the explosives detection systems market spiked and has since leveled. Recently, it has begun to increase once again and is predicted to reach almost $600 million by 2009. In this growing market there exist few entrenched competitors and products allowing new entrants (especially those with increased capabilities) easier access.

The threat of terrorist action on United States soil has never been higher. More money is being spent on homeland security than ever before in the history of the nation. This high level of political awareness makes further research likely to attract grants, and resulting products are likely to be quickly tested and adopted.

Project Description: The concept of DRS for explosives detection has already been shown by us to work, utilizing a bench-top system developed at UF that operates under controlled laboratory conditions at close range (about 30 inches).

Schematic representation of the individual components of the “Generation II DRS”. 1.UV-Vis Light Source, 2.Fast Steering Mirror,3.Deflecting Mirror, 4. Suitcase (target), 5. Telescope, 6. Fiber Optic Collimator, 7. Optical Fiber, 8. Imaging Spectrograph, 9. CCD Camera, 10. Laptop, 11.Focussing mirror, 12. FilterPrinciple of Operation: Differential reflection spectrometry (DRS) is an optical technique that measures essentially the absorption properties of a material. We have shown that a large amount of explosive compounds, including 2, 4, 6 trinitrotoluene (TNT) and RDX (C-4), reveal characteristic spectra for each explosive material. DRS uses near UV light to measure the reflectivities of two different areas of one sample to determine its absorption characteristics. The differential nature of the DRS causes it to have very high sensitivity, specifically 0.01% difference in absorption or approximately 10 µg/mm2 of particles. The high sensitivity, portability, and simplicity of the technique renders it an excellent candidate for explosive detection.

The funding will allow the researchers to demonstrate the following milestones for commercialization:

  1. increase the working distance by substantially more than one order of magnitude,
  2. perform the scanning under ambient conditions (such as indoor or outdoors),
  3. package the system in a portable field unit,
  4. reduce the cycle time for signal processing from the current 90 seconds to milliseconds.

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