Technology Forum: Homeland Security

E-Separation Solutions

E-Separation Solutions-04-21-2009, Volume 0, Issue 0

Joining us for this discussion are Charles Sadowksi of Smiths Detection; Staff Scientists from Torion Technologies Inc.; and Gareth M. Roberts of Markes International Ltd.

Reminders of the importance of homeland security research are never far away, as recent events off the coast of Somalia have proven once again. The world is still a dangerous place, and though military confrontations with pirates in far-off countries may seem distant to us now, one of the primary goals of homeland security research is to prevent individuals with such intentions from reaching our shores.

Joining us for this discussion are Charles Sadowksi of Smiths Detection; Staff Scientists from Torion Technologies Inc.; and Gareth M. Roberts of Markes International Ltd.

What do you consider the first major breakthrough in the homeland security realm in the field of analytical chemistry? How has that opened the door in the field?

Sadowksi:When you ask about analytical chemistry for homeland security, to me that means bringing analytical instrumentation of the same type and quality that is found in the lab to a field environment. The introduction of a rugged simple to operate FT-IR ranks as one of the major breakthroughs in bringing the lab to the field. It replaced sensors and other classification techniques with a lab quality instrument that could provide reliable identification of unknown chemicals. The operation and presentation of results all in a format that civil and military first responders could relate to. The timing in bringing that product to market was ideal. There was a real need to be able to identify white powders accurately and quickly in the field, the product filled a major need for our first responders.

Torion Team: Early advances in field-portable infrared (IR) scanning and ion mobility spectrometry (IMS) equipment has brought high impact visibility to the field of portable analytical instrumentation. Users in the field now have experience and value the detection capabilities of these portable instruments. This visibility has brought about new opportunities and funding for more advanced separation and detection instruments for analysis in the field.

Roberts: The development of mobile analytical laboratories has been of particular significance.The ability to provide "on-site" analysis using conventional central laboratory technology has enabled greater accuracy in identification and quantitiation. This type of analysis is essential to rescue/first responder personnel in assessing the nature of a toxic gas/liquid release.

Is time the major obstacle for homeland security? Or have the proliferation of handheld devices really put those concerns to rest? Has cost now surpassed time constraints?

Sadowksi:Time is always an issue, when decisions need to be made that can affect lives, lessen damage to property, or reduce economic impact, faster is always better. The new generation of handhelds has helped in this area. They are more accurate, more sensitive, in addition to providing results faster. Initial cost of the equipment and the cost of maintaining it is something that the homeland security users evaluate carefully when making a decision to purchase. I would not rank cost however as the overriding concern; size, weight, ease-of-use, and the type and quality of the data produced are still the major issues.

Torion Team:Time restraints are the major obstacle since homeland security operations are time critical. Real to near-real time data is needed. There will always be a push for instruments that can produce an answer in less time and with better specificity and selectivity.

Roberts:Ideally, real-time analysis is required. However, levels of detection and problems associated with high background matrix effects can affect this type of technology. Sample preconcentration (TD) with speciation (GC) and MS detection all within NRT (near real time) is still very powerful.

What do you see for the future of homeland security in regards to analytical chemistry?

Sadowksi:In regards to detection and identification equipment, the future remains in smaller, lighter, faster, and more accurate devices. An area that needs more focus is sample preparation. In the lab, we have extensive sample preparation procedures. Most of these are not transportable to the field. How to get the right sample to the instrument remains a major issue in the field.

Torion Team:There are several handheld/portable instruments available (e.g., IR, IMS, GC) that are useful in situations in which single compound detection or non specific detectors are adequate. The current direction is now focused on handheld/portable equipment that can detect individual compounds contained in mixtures of chemicals and unknowns. To achieve this goal, an efficient separation step is often required and portable instruments are in development using technologies including GC–MS, IMS–MS, etc.

Roberts:As in most analytical techniques, the ability to provide smaller, cheaper, and faster instrumentationwithout compromising the analytical process (e.g. sensitivity).

Which particular technique (GC–MS, FT–IR, etc.) do you see having the longest sustained durability for homeland security?

Sadowksi:Handheld devices will continue to play a major role in homeland security. The capabilities of these devices will expand by combining multiple sensors into single devices. FT–IR and GC–MS are now established field techniques. FT–IR more so then GC–MS. This in part goes back to the sample prep issue and need. Responders encounter bulk unknowns at a high frequency and placing a sample on an FT–IR–ATR interface is simple. The need for trace mixture analysis (GC–MS) is there, but how do you get a liquid sample into your GC–MS, you don’t want the user injecting a microliter of diesel. The next generation field GC–MS will need to address sample prep/sampling issues beyond just air sampling. When these issues are addressed, the role of GC–MS will increase.

Torion Team:Different portable analytical instruments each have value depending upon the threat scenario. GC–MS has the capability of detecting mixtures of chemicals and identification of unknowns, whereas portable IMS and IR instruments are better suited for less complex samples. Each will be used for specific needs, but those instruments that are capable of analyzing complex mixtures with improvements in overall weight, portability, ruggedness, and ease-of-use by the war fighter/security market will have the longest sustained durability.

Roberts:GC–MS and specifically TOF-MS technology. This provides very good sensitivitywith full spectral information, and very fast acquisition speeds, which enable data mining softwareto work very efficiently.

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