Single test to detect deadly explosives in a jiffy

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London: Scientists from University College London have designed a new sensor for detecting multiple explosives like DNT, RDX and PETN simultaneously which are hard to detect using sniffer dogs.

The sensor can quickly identify and quantify five commonly used explosives in solution to help track toxic contamination in waste water and improve the safety of public spaces.

“This is the first time multiple explosives have been detected using a single sensor. Our sensor changes colour within 10 seconds to give information about how much and what explosives are present in a sample,” said lead researcher William Peveler.


“Following further development, we hope it will be used to quickly analyse the nature of threats and inform tailored responses,” he added.

DNT is a breakdown product from landmines and RDX and PETN have been used in terror plots in recent years.

“Our test can quickly identify these compounds so we see it having a variety of applications from monitoring the waste water of munitions factories and military ranges to finding evidence of illicit activities,” Peveler noted.

The sensor is made of quantum dots which are tiny light-emitting particles or nanomaterials, to which explosive targeting receptors are attached.

As each explosive binds to the quantum dot, it quenches the light being emitted to a different degree.

The distinct changes in colour are analysed computationally in a variety of conditions to give a unique fingerprint for each compound, allowing multiple explosives to be detected with a single test.

The team plan to take it from the laboratory into the field by blind testing it with contaminated waste water samples.

The study was published in the journal ACS Nano.

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