Homeland Security: Detection and Biodefense

February 27, 2007

E-Separation Solutions

A topic on everyone's minds these days, especially those of us who traveled by air to get to Pittcon, is Homeland Security.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007A topic on everyone’s minds these days, especially those of us who traveled by air to get to Pittcon, is Homeland Security. So the session I attended this morning, “Homeland Security: Detection and Biodefense,” proved to be particularly interesting and relevant.

Among the topics presented were “Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS) Studies of Residue Explosive Materials on Wipes and Surfaces,” by Chase A. Munson, from the U.S. Army Research Laboratory. He discussed LIBS, which is a method that is used to detect nitro-based explosives. One challenge he mentioned in doing this work is the fact that complex backgrounds tend to affect the measurements of the substance you are trying to detect.

Robyn Hannigan, from Arkansas State University, discussed “Real-Time Mini-TOF-MS Detection of Explosives,” or as she stated before beginning her presentation, “It’s actually near-real-time.” Her talk focused on detection of nitrogen-based explosives such as TNT and plastic explosives for the purpose of perimeter protection.

Other presenters included Toshikazu Kawaguchi, of Kyushu University, who spoke about “Application of Functionalized Thiolate Self-Assembled Monolayer to Surface Plasmon Resonance Immunosensor for Detection of Explosive Compounds”; Rasha Hammamieh, from Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, who discussed “Mathematical Modeling of Pathogenomics to Characterize Progression of Illness”; George B. Sigal, of Meso Scale Diagnostics, LLC, whose topic was “Multiplexed Electrochemiluminescence Assays for Biowarfare Agents”; and Douglas D. Richardson, of the University of Cincinnati, who presented “Ultratrace Analysis of Chemical Warfare Degradation Products by GC-ICPMS: The 31P Connection.”

Charles C. Johnson, of ASAP LLC, gave a presentation on “Identification of Smokeless Powders by GC.IRD.” He discussed the fact that smokeless powders, which are used in firearms, are often used illegally in improvised explosive devices (IED). It is often a challenge for a law enforcement agency to identify the material used in these devices and to trace it back to the person who built the IED. Johnson discussed the ease with which GC.IRD is able to identify these smokeless powders and provide the secondary confirmation that is often required by forensic laboratories.

The speaker whose presentation seemed to be the most relevant for the population at large was Thomas J. Roussel, from the University of Louisville. He discussed “Development of an HVAC-Integrated Explosives Vapor Detection System for Public Facility/Infrastructure Protection.” We are all familiar with homeland security procedures instituted at airports, but what about in places we frequent on a more regular basis? This presentation focused on exactly that idea. Roussel stated that the goal of this research was “to develop and test an explosive detection system for use in shopping malls and other public places,” because no similar system is currently available. The basic idea is to sample air in a “transition area” of a mall, such as a small vestibule near the mall entrance where vapors might concentrate after a contaminated individual has passed through. This explosive vapor detection system would be retrofitted into the air-return duct of commercial HVAC systems. The detection system contains an ion mobility spectrometer or other detector, which is preprogrammed to identify a wide range of explosives.

It seems that Pittcon has something for everyone, and many more sessions remain to be presented. Enjoy the rest of the conference!