A New Way of Detecting Explosives
By probing the thermal signatures of chemical vapors, a renowned research scientist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and his associates at the Technical University of Denmark have discovered a new method of detecting explosives. It should be noted that Dr. Thomas Thundat and his team at ORNL have been working on this technology for a number of years and have now, hopefully, reached a point where the work will be put to good use.
In their paper, the scientists show that their technology is capable of trace detection of explosives. They also show that it is capable of distinguishing between explosive and non-explosive chemicals and of differentiating between individual explosives, such as TNT, PETN, and RDX.
Known as a MEMS device, or more familiarly, a Microcantilever, the sensor works by attracting a molecule of the substance of interest to the cantilever. By heating the cantilevers in a fraction of a second, these sensors can discriminate between explosives and non-explosives, a superheating process causes a thermal response, allowing for the sensor to differentiate in microseconds.
For those so inclined, the full paper can be found here.
Full disclosure: I have known and worked with Dr. Thundat since 1996. Frankly, I am proud to know him, and that his research (and that of his team) into the Microcantilever to detect explosives may finally reach fruition. At one point, my own company held licenses (both exclusive and non-exclusive) to this technology for multiple applications (including explosives detection). The vision then, as I suspect now, was to install arrays of these super-sensitive chips in places where advanced detection of vapors from explosive materials could prevent a terrorist event (a series of presentations and meetings with a "certain" federal agency were arranged by us in 1997).
Dr. Thundat has been referred to by some of his peers as a National Resource. I call him my friend.