Promising Aussie company benefits from emphasis on explosive detection

Published 12 January 2006

We like restless, innovative companies, and this Australian company is intellectually restless and innovative company — and what also helps, is that it is in a growing homeland security subfield

As we have noticed in several stories during the past few weeks, the development of innovative and effective explosion detection techniques, and building Explosive Detection Systems (EDS), are moving up on the aviation security agenda of the United States and other countries. The perception of the disaster of 9/11 was that it was brought about by nineteen terrorists armed with box cutters. Therefore, after 9/11, many of the policies and edicts of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) were aimed to prevent knives and scissors from being carried on board. The installation of impregnable cockpit doors made this preoccupation largely irrelevant, especially in light of the fact that the much more acute danger — that of explosives being loaded into the plane’s baggage compartment — appeared to be low on the agenda of TSA. Security experts and Congress finally prevailed, and TSA has relaxed its emphasis on small knives and scissors and increased dramatically its attention to explosives detection. We should note that it is not only — and perhaps even not primarily — Congress and security experts who pushed for a new emphasis in aviation security. Under the new, capable, and no-nonsense leadership of Edmund “Kip” Hawley, TSA has become a much more energized, focused, and effective agency, with a much greater willingness to set priorities, allocate scarce resources to programs which are the most effective, and concentrate on what is truly important.

TSA’s new emphasis benefits not only U.S. companies. Perth, Australia-based QRSciences (QRS: ASX) (QRSHY: PK), a developer of advanced sensing technologies today announced that the company’s half yearly revenue increased 247 percent over the corresponding period last year — from A$375,000 to approximately A$1,300,000. “Our expectation is that there will be a continued upward trend in revenue growth in the short to mid term, reflecting a very interesting growth stock opportunity for investors,” said QRSciences CEO, Kevin Russeth. Not only will 2006 offer many new opportunities for the company to sell its products (have we already mentioned the shift in TSA’s priorities?), but it will also benefit from contract R&D and consulting, from synergies realized from its investment in San Diego, California-based Spectrum San Diego, and its distribution relationship with Cincinnati, Ohio-based XTEK.

It is a small world: QRSciences has a development and manufacturing partner - the Hawthorne, California-based OSI Systems. OSI System is the developer of Rapiscan.

-read more in the news release; see also Spectrum San Diego’s Web site; XTEK Web site; and OSI Systems Web site; for more on Rapiscan scanner see this product page

Quadrupole Resonance technology

Quadrupole Resonance (QR) technology is related to Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). It is used for explosives, narcotics, and biochemical detection, but may also be used for pharmaceutical quality control, mineral and material assay, lab instrumentation, and other environmental science applications. QR uses radio waves to stimulate atoms such as nitrogen, which is ubiquitous in explosives. The excited atoms re-emit energy, and the wavelength spectrum of that energy is then used to identify the molecule. The company says its technology has already identified some 10,000 different chemical substances.

QR is basically a radio-frequency spectroscopy, that is, it is a phenomenon of resonance RF absorption or emission of electromagnetic energy. We may recall from Physics 101 that the phenomenon results from the interactions between asymmetrically distributed charges of the atomic nucleus, aka quadrupole moment, and the atomic shell electrons, as well as those charges that are outside the atomic radius. Thus, all changes in the quadrupole coupling are constants and QR frequencies are due to their electric origin.

Note that a magnetic field is not required in QR because the electric quadrupole moments of the nuclei are already aligned by the electric field gradients of the surrounding molecules. The process of aligning the electric quadrupole moments of the nuclei also aligns their magnetic moments. If you were ever subjected to a hospital MRI, the first thing that struck you was probably the size and bulkiness of the MRI scanner.The reason is that MRI requires a large uniform magnetic field. The QR technique is much simpler, and it is more sensitive to the structure of the molecule. There are benefits to this added sensitivity: The size and frequency of the signals in both MRI and QR techniques are related to the strength of the aligning field. The size and frequency are increased in MRI by using a bigger magnet. In QR, signal strength and operating frequency are lower. Lower frequencies have the advantage of deeper penetration - but they require a detection system of greater sensitivity. Hence the greater sensitivity of QR to the structure of the molecule.