Researchers Develop New Method for Detecting Contraband in Cargo Containers

December 1, 2008

Researchers Edward Staples from the US measurement technology company Q&A Solutions (Westlake Village, CA) and Shekar Viswanathan from the National University (San Diego, CA) have developed a new method for detecting contraband in cargo containers using urface acoustic waves (SAWs) and a capillary-based gas chromatograph column.

Researchers Edward Staples from the US measurement technology company Q&A Solutions (Westlake Village, CA) and Shekar Viswanathan from the National University (San Diego, CA) have developed a new method for detecting contraband in cargo containers using urface acoustic waves (SAWs) and a capillary-based gas chromatograph column. SAW detectors have been around since the early 1990s, Staples and Viswanathan have managed to develop an advanced version that is a thousand times more sensitive than previous detectors. By connecting this SAW detector to a capillary-based gas chromatograph column, the researchers came up with a portable sensor for sensitively detecting contraband in cargo containers.

The idea is to take a sample of air from a cargo container, which can be done by simply pumping the air from the container's ventilation duct. Following a concentration step, the volatile compounds in this air sample are separated by GC and then detected by the SAW detector. The end result is a standard chromatogram, in which chemical markers of specific drugs or explosives can be identified based on their retention times.