How chemists plan to sniff out terrorist bombs

The recent terrorist attacks in Paris have also stirred up the European scientific community, in particular, chemical scientists. It is no longer a secret for anyone that the explosives used by terrorists are synthesized at home. Hence, one of the main tasks is to learn how to detect it using special "sniffing" sensors.

Currently, several teams of scientists from around the world are working on the development of sensors for the detection of TATP (triaceton triperoxide, peroxyacetone) - acetone peroxide, which is widely used in improvised explosive devices.

Chemists are trying to use one of the physical characteristics of TATP - the vapor pressure at the moment of transition from a solid to a gaseous state. Scientists are convinced that a terrorist dressed in a suicide vest, in the presence of TATR, will "emit" a large amount of gaseous particles, which the sensor should fix. Dr. Kenneth Saslik's team has developed a portable scanner that reacts to TATR and other explosives. The Pentagon provides financial support for the project.

Gaseous TATP molecules entering the sensor collide with a solid acid catalyst. The acid returns it to its original state - to acetone and hydrogen peroxide. As an unstable oxidizing agent, hydrogen peroxide reacts with the dye in the sensor and changes color. The scanner will respond even at two parts per billion.