Researchers at the University College London (UCL) have developed a new sensor with the ability to simultaneously detect five commonly-used explosives. Currently in the prototype stages, the device could one day be used to improve security in public spaces.

We've seen some impressive technologies emerge for the detection of explosive materials over the years, including developments like a simple solutions for detecting shoe bombs and even explosives-detecting stickers. Now, a team of UCL researchers is looking to streamline the process, building a proof-of-concept sensor that's capable of quickly identifying numerous explosives at once.

The sensor is designed to detect explosives commonly used for both industrial and military purposes, such as DNT, which is commonly found in landmines, and both RDX and PETN – compounds used in recent terror plots. In the future it could be used in multiple scenarios, from testing waste water from munitions factories to finding evidence of terrorism plots.

It makes use of quantum dots – miniscule light-emitting particles designed to react to the explosives. Each of the five different materials bind to the quantum dots, quenching emitted light to different degrees. The sensor then analyzes the light, identifying the fingerprint of each explosive compound, even if several are present at one time.

"Our sensor is a significant step forward for multiple explosives detection. Current methods can be laborious and require expensive detection," says senior paper author Professor Ivan Parkin. "Current methods can be laborious and require expensive equipment but our test is designed to be inexpensive, fast and use a much smaller volume of sample than previously possible."

Looking forward, the team will work to improve the technology, and plans to conduct field trials, performing blind tests using contaminated waste water.

The researchers published a paper detailing the technology in the journal ACS Nano.

Source: UCL