Detecting Chemical ExplosivesUniversity researchers promote biometric screening, emphasize speed

Published 15 August 2006

Researchers at the University of Buffalo are working on (and desire further funding for) a chemical detection system that scans passengers’ hands for minute traces of explosives

INTRO: In our last two issues, we reported on EST and AS&E, a pair of companies marketing products to detect chemical explosives like TAPT and its components. We did not mean to give the impression that these were the only innovators in the field. Indeed, no small number of companies are rushing to promote their own trace explosive detection technologies. Here are just a few of the leading contenders.

Touch and go: One of the biggest problems in detecting chemical explosives is that their component chemicals may be benign until mixed together. Yet, as time may soon show, banning all liquids can be impractical over the long term, and devices and methods that check every bag may be too expensive or time-consuming for widespread use. Researchers at University at Buffalo’s (UB) multidisciplinary Center for Unified Biometrics and Sensors (CUBS) are working on a neat solution: a biometric sensor that can detect chemical traces on the fingers of airline passengers. Making bombs is careful, arduous work, and as Venu Govindaraju, Ph.D., CUBS director and professor of computer science and engineering observes, “An individual never can be absolutely certain that he or she has completely eliminated all traces of such chemicals from their skin.” The sensor could also capture and assess fingerprints, palm prints and hand geometry.

Researchers at UB began working on the design last year hoping to improve border security in western New York, but they believe the system could easily integrate itself into ongoing customs and security regimes. Passengers would press their hands to the machine, wait for a quick assessment, and then move on (presuming they were not actually terrorists). In cases where a chemical could be found in medication as well as in explosives, passengers would be asked to provide a prescription.

CUBS is actively seeking funding for further development.

-read more in this UB press release