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Super-sensitive Explosives Detector Demonstrated

Date:
June 27, 2008
Source:
DOE/Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Summary:
Using a laser and a device that converts reflected light into sound, researchers at the US Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory can detect explosives at distances exceeding 20 yards.

ORNL researcher Charles Van Neste (shown above) and his colleagues have developed a new method that can enable them to probe and identify materials in open air instead of having to introduce a pressurized chamber, which renders photoacoustic spectroscopy virtually useless for security and military applications.
Credit: Jason K. Richards, Photography Dept., Creative Media; courtesy of DOE/Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Using a laser and a device that converts reflected light into sound, researchers at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory can detect explosives at distances exceeding 20 yards.

The method is a variation of photoacoustic spectroscopy but overcomes a number of problems associated with this technique originally demonstrated by Alexander Graham Bell in the late 1880s. Most notably, ORNL researchers are able to probe and identify materials in open air instead of having to introduce a pressurized chamber, which renders photoacoustic spectroscopy virtually useless for security and military applications.

ORNL's technique, detailed in Applied Physics Letters 92, involves illuminating the target sample with an eye-safe pulsed light source and allowing the scattered light to be detected by a quartz crystal tuning fork.

"We match the pulse frequency of the illuminating light with the mechanical resonant frequency of the quartz crystal tuning fork, generating acoustic waves at the tuning fork's air-surface interface," said Charles Van Neste of ORNL's Biosciences Division. "This produces pressures that drive the tuning fork into resonance."

The amplitude of this vibration is proportional to the intensity of the scattered light beam falling on the tuning fork, which because of the nature of quartz creates a piezoelectric voltage.

Van Neste and co-authors Larry Senesac and Thomas Thundat note that other advantages of quartz tuning fork resonators include compact size, low cost, commercial availability and the ability to operate in field conditions environments.

For their experiments, researchers used tributyl phosphate and three explosives - cyclotrimethylenetrinitromine, trinitrotoluene, commonly known as TNT, and pentaerythritol tetranitrate. They were able to detect trace residues with lasers 100 times less powerful than those of competing technologies.

While the researchers have been able to detect explosives at 20 meters, using larger collection mirrors and stronger illumination sources, they believe they can achieve detection at distances approaching 100 meters.

This research was funded by DOE's Office of Nonproliferation Research and Development and the Office of Naval Research. UT-Battelle manages Oak Ridge National Laboratory for the Department of Energy.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by DOE/Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. C. W. Van Neste, L. R. Senesac, and T. Thundat. Standoff photoacoustic spectroscopy. Applied Physics Letters, 2008; 92 (23): 234102 DOI: 10.1063/1.2945288

Cite This Page:

DOE/Oak Ridge National Laboratory. "Super-sensitive Explosives Detector Demonstrated." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 27 June 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/06/080625153328.htm>.
DOE/Oak Ridge National Laboratory. (2008, June 27). Super-sensitive Explosives Detector Demonstrated. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 30, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/06/080625153328.htm
DOE/Oak Ridge National Laboratory. "Super-sensitive Explosives Detector Demonstrated." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/06/080625153328.htm (accessed August 30, 2014).

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