IISc develops tool to detect explosives

Scientists at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) here have developed a new and ‘effective’ technique to identify explosive and hazardous chemicals hidden in containers. It can be used as a medical diagnostic tool to detect tumours.

Two scientists, Prof Siva Umapathy and his student Dr Sanchita Sil, from the Department of Inorganic and Physical Chemistry, IISc, have developed a portable and easy-to-use technique which can be used for security at airports and railways stations, to detect explosives and hazardous chemicals. The technique - based on Universal Multiple Angle Raman Spectroscopy (UMARS) - relies on illuminating the sample with the light source, which provides scattered light molecular specific signatures to identify chemical substances.

The research paper, published in the ‘Nature Scientific Reports’ journal in June 2014, employs the principle of deep penetration of photons and diffusion using non-absorbing media and employing multiple scattering and detection of signals from all observable angles.

This technique being flexible, robust and non-invasive, can be used in various fields of science from materials to biology and even space exploration. “Signals can be obtained from samples, concealed or packed inside non-metallic containers such as commercial plastic bottles, thick paper, envelopes and coloured glass bottles,” said Umapathy. This device can detect samples within 100 milliseconds and the longest time taken to detect samples is one minute.

Working in the area of Raman spectroscopy, Umapathy said that with suitable modifications, this technique can be employed not only for detection of explosives but also medical diagnostics and quality assessment in pharmaceutical and food industries. With the laboratory-based prototype ready, the process is on for the miniaturisation of the UMARS instrument. The scientists are exploring, commercialising their research and want to work with security and defence industries.

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