American Chemical Society Develops Nanomaterial that Senses and Neutralizes Explosives

Andy Choi

The scientists at the American Chemical Society (ACS) have come up with a nanomaterial that can be sprayed on surfaces to detect and simultaneously neutralize explosives. This new material was unveiled at the 241st National Meeting & Exposition of the ACS.

The nanomaterial is in the form of an ink and it consists of tiny metal oxide particles that are so minute that as many as 50,000 particles could be housed in a diameter equal to that of human hair. Presence of explosives is indicated by the colour change in the ink from dark blue to pale yellow or transparent. It is also capable of sensing electronic explosives as it is capable of changing to a non-conductor. This color-change attribute permits the substance to function as a sensor for rapidly sensing the occurrence of vapours produced by explosives. As per Apblett, soldiers or firefighters could fix this material as strips to their uniforms so that they can see the colour change when the explosive’s vapours come in contact with them. At airports or subways the sensors could be made part of stationary monitoring devices.

Allen Apblett lauded the usefulness of this material as it can be used in a number of places like battlegrounds, airports and subways. He added that this detector cum neutralizer would save a lot of lives that would otherwise be lost to terrorist attacks. Allen Apblett is a chemist at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, Okla, who led the research team that created the nanomaterial.

Apblett explained the neutralising aspect thus; the material can be sprayed on the detected explosive and wait for the colour to change to indicate that the device has been defused. Alternatively, the explosives can be immersed in a large volume of the ink to neutralize them. According to Apblett, government authorities are particularly troubled by the peroxide-based explosives that are easy to make and the triacetone triperoxide (TATP) explosives that escape the current detecting system at airports and other locations. The new ink based detector scores over the current detection system in being able to successfully detect these explosives. The nanoparticles are a compound of molybdenum and it turns yellow or clear from dark blue when it comes in contact with the TATP.

When it is used as an electronic sensor, the extremely-sensitive substance is able to detect TATP vapours within 30 seconds at levels of 50 parts per million, which is equal to a few drops of the vapour in a room. The similar chemical reaction permits the materials to act as an explosives deactivator The application of the material can be extended in laboratories in order to safeguard from chemical explosions. Apblett and his team have founded a company, Xplosafe, to market the nanomaterial and make it available for use at airports within a year.