New rapid tool for detecting homemade improvised explosive devices

by Sophie Berrill
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Homemade improvised explosive devices

Victoria University engineers have developed a rapid-screening tool aimed at enhancing screening and detection of homemade improvised explosive devices (IEDs). It means a cheaper, faster and portable screening process suitable for use at airports, other transportation hubs, and concerts.

IEDs using organic peroxide explosives (OPEs) have been responsible for a number of global terrorism events, according to the researchers. These include sport stadiums and theatres (Paris 2015), airports (Brussels 2016) concert venues (Manchester 2017) and places of worship (Sri Lanka 2019).

Extremely dangerous, OPEs can be made in ‘home laboratories’ from readily available materials. They can have devastating impact due to their extremely unstable nature.

Lead researcher Dr Parvez Mahbub says current screening can mistakenly pick up ingredients used in OPEs, as they are present in some household items and are easily accessible.

“Things like nail polish remover, toothpaste or hair dye with peroxide components could show up in airport detection, but that doesn’t necessarily mean someone is carrying an IED,” Dr Mahbub explains.

“We employed two methods for rapid screening – acid hydrolysis and photolysis. They use minuscule amount of acids and advanced light sources such as LEDs to separate hazardous material from non-hazardous. It will be a cheaper, faster and portable screening process suitable for use at airports, other transportation hubs, and concerts.”

The research team have so far used discarded pig skins to test the efficacy of the tool, depositing known concentrations of OPEs on the skin, swabbing and then screening. The next steps will be to validate the tool on humans.

The results were published in peer-reviewed journal Analytica Chimica Acta.

“This research contributes to a future of low-cost, portable rapid screening and detection of multiple explosives that can be used by anybody, anywhere,” Dr Mahbub says.

This study was a collaboration between Victoria University, Melbourne Centre for Nanofabrication, Monash Institute for Pharmaceutical Sciences, CSIRO, RMIT, Australian Centre for Research on Separation Science, Brno University of Technology and Mendel University. It was funded by the Defence Science Institute.

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