Laser photoacoustic spectroscopy helps fight terrorism: High sensitivity detection of chemical Warfare Agent and explosives
Department of Physics & Astronomy, University of California, Los Angeles, CA, 90077, USA
2 Pranalytica, Inc., 1101 Colorado Avenue, Santa Monica, CA, 90401, USA
Tunable laser photoacoustic spectroscopy is maturing rapidly in its applications to real world problems. One of the burning problems of the current turbulent times is the threat of terrorist acts against civilian population. This threat appears in two distinct forms. The first is the potential release of chemical warfare agents (CWA), such as the nerve agents, in a crowded environment. An example of this is the release of Sarin by Aum Shinrikyo sect in a crowded Tokyo subway in 1995. An example of the second terrorist threat is the ever-present possible suicide bomber in crowded environment such as airports, markets and large buildings. Minimizing the impact of both of these threats requires early detection of the presence of the CWAs and explosives. Photoacoustic spectroscopy is an exquisitely sensitive technique for the detection of trace gaseous species, a property that Pranalytica has extensively exploited in its CO2 laser based commercial instrumentation for the sub-ppb level detection of a number of industrially important gases including ammonia, ethylene, acrolein, sulfur hexafluoride, phosphine, arsine, boron trichloride and boron trifluoride. In this presentation, I will focus, however, on our recent use of broadly tunable single frequency high power room temperature quantum cascade lasers (QCL) for the detection of the CWAs and explosives. Using external grating cavity geometry, we have developed room temperature QCLs that produce continuously tunable single frequency CW power output in excess of 300 mW at wavelengths covering 5μm to 12μm. I will present data that show a CWA detection capability at ppb levels with false alarm rates below 1:108. I will also show the capability of detecting a variety of explosives at a ppb level, again with very low false alarm rates. Among the explosives, we have demonstrated the capability of detecting homemade explosives such as triacetone triperoxide and its liquid precursor, acetone which is a common household liquid. This capability, deployed at airports and other public places, will go a long way towards increasing public safety and minimizing inconveniences faced in airline travel.
© EDP Sciences, Springer-Verlag, 2008