Technion patents laser device for identifying explosives, narcotics

The technique uses a laser beam, projected at a specific wavelength on the suspicious substance that emits electrons to identify its composition.

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July 14, 2013 23:57
2 minute read.
Pipe bombs captured by Border Police.

pipe bombs 311. (photo credit: Border Police)

 
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A team of scientists from the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology have patented a technique that detects the presence of conventional and plastic explosives – as well as narcotics such as heroin, Ecstasy and cocaine – within a minute.

The technique uses a laser beam, projected at a specific wavelength on the suspicious substance that emits electrons to identify its composition.

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Dr. Israel Schechter, of the institute’s chemistry department, told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday that he and his team of 10 people have worked for up to two years on the technique.

He presented it last week at a national conference on security, attended by former intelligence minister Dan Meridor, at the Haifa campus. Schechter published the theory for his method in the prestigious Analytical Chemistry journal in 2010.

The team named the technique MEES (Multiphoton Electron Extraction Spectroscopy). The device is portable and about the size of a laptop computer.

Schechter said the laser technique can detect explosives and drugs from very small concentrations – “even one-millionth of one-millionth of a gram.

Even if the person in contact with the explosives [or drugs] has washed his hands, residues remain.”



The chemist said he doesn’t know how long the residues last until they disappear, but noted that “most types of explosives are organic and do not dissolve in water.”

After the suspicious substances are radiated with the laser, the team measure the flow of electrons and can identify the substance, because each substance produces a distinct flow.

Schechter said that of the existing technologies able to identify explosives and drugs, such as sniffing dogs, the issue is in speed.

“Conventional techniques can take days or a week,” he said. “We can do it within one minute. We hope that it will be cheap enough to make it practical at airports and other sensitive locations.”

In any case, Schechter believes the use of dogs may still be needed, even if his method is implemented, because “if they are well trained, they are very sensitive. It is not their noses that are sensitive, but their brains.”

The Technion professor said that even rats could be trained to develop such skills, but that since most people think rats are “disgusting,” such an idea is not practical.

“Detecting techniques have to be cheap and work fast. Those at airports can easily be cheated by hostile elements,” he added.

“They know what to add to plastic explosives that make it difficult to detect them.”

Schechter added that in an experiment, an Israel Police team supplied residues of drugs and explosives that were identified quickly.

He said that while speaking at an invitation-only conference on explosives in Philadelphia, “I thought they would be skeptical, but when I presented the idea, there was a lot of enthusiasm. For years, they had looked for a fast technique like this, and finally they saw the potential.”

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