A Faster Method for Detecting Explosives

September 2 is the birthday of Friedrich Wilhelm Ostwald who was born in 1853.  The Russian-German scientist was a pioneer in physical chemistry (which applies physics to chemistry), winning the Nobel Prize in 1909.

Among his discoveries was the Ostwald process for easily converting ammonia into nitric acid.  This patented process enabled Germany to increase its production of both fertilizers and explosives during World War I.

Sadly, today’s easy access to explosives – including those based on fertilizers – has contributed to the proliferation of improvised explosive devices used in both domestic and international terrorism.  Detection and analysis of explosives is a critical need for forensic scientists.  Agilent technologies such as liquid chromatography, gas chromatography, mass spectrometry and capillary electrophoresis have long been used for analysis.  However, these techniques typically require both time and a laboratory.

Rapid, onsite analysis of explosives is becoming increasingly important for health and law enforcement professionals.  Researchers in the U.S. and Australia recently developed a new technique based on microfluidics and lab-on-a-chip technologies, using an Agilent 2100 Bioanalyzer system.  This new procedure is both quick and field portable, enabling the team to successfully detect and identify 1 μg (one millionth of a gram) of explosives within an area of 1 square meter.

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