Washington: Scientists at Queen’s University Belfast are developing new sensors to detect chemical agents and illegal drugs within seconds, which will help in the fight against the threat of terrorist attacks.The devices will use special gel pads to ‘swipe’ an individual or crime scene to gather a sample which is then analysed by a scanning instrument that can detect the presence of chemicals within seconds.
This will allow better, faster decisions to be made in response to terrorist threats.
The scanning instrument will use Raman Spectroscopy which involves shining a laser beam onto the suspected sample and measuring the energy of light that scatters from it to determine what chemical compound is present.
It is so sophisticated that it can measure particles of a miniscule scale making detection faster and more accurate.
Normally, this type of spectroscopy is not sensitive enough to detect low concentrations of chemicals, so here the sample is mixed with nanoscale silver particles, which amplify the signals of compounds allowing even the smallest trace to be detected.
According to Dr Steven Bell from Queen’s University Belfast, who is leading the research, “Although we are still in the middle of the project, we have finished much of the preliminary work and are now at the exciting stage where we put the various strands together to produce the integrated sensor device.”
“For the future, we hope to be able to capitalise on this research and expand the range of chemicals and drugs which these sensors are able to detect,” he said.
It is hoped that the new sensors will also be the basis for developing ‘breathalyzer’ instruments that could be of particular use for roadside drugs testing in much the same way as the police take breathalyzer samples to detect alcohol.
In the future, this technology could have a number of important applications and according to Dr Bell, “There are numerous areas, from medical diagnostics to environmental monitoring, where the ability to use simple field tests to detect traces of important indicator compounds would be invaluable.”
First Published: Tuesday, October 06, 2009, 14:34