Access success story - LaserLaB Amsterdam

Detecting explosives through nontransparent materials (LaserLaB Amsterdam)

An access project carried out at LaserLaB Amsterdam by forensic scientists shows that with the assistance of experts in laser diagnostics one can find solutions for pressing problems in society. Carmen García-Ruiz (photo: right) and María López-López (photo: left) of the University Institute of Research in Police Sciences (IUICP, Madrid) developed a way of detecting certain explosives using Raman spectroscopy during their visit to Amsterdam.

Maria Lopez-Lopez and Carmen García-Ruiz

Non-invasive detection of concealed explosives is becoming a priority in terms of security, and has attracted particular attention in recent years due to the heightened threat of terrorism. Law enforcement teams throughout the world have to intensify research and development of efficient detection systems to be able to face the problem of hidden explosives at public places like airports, railway or coach stations.

In view of the growing need to apply research in experimental sciences to forensic science, the research group INQUIFOR was created as part of the University Institute of Research in Police Sciences (IUICP) of the University of Alcalá (Madrid, Spain) in 2010. Since then, INQUIFOR has focused on the development of new analytical tools to overcome analytical forensic challenges, especially those where explosive samples are involved

Time Resolved Raman spectroscopy (TTRS) is a promising tool which has been applied to identify various types of samples behind different non-transparent, diffusely-scattering materials. With the aim of detecting explosives using this technique, García-Ruiz, head of INQUIFOR, and her postdoc López-López contacted Freek Ariese from LaserLaB Amsterdam, one of the world experts in Raman technology. He provided them with detailed information on access opportunities and conditions through the LASERLAB-EUROPE Access Programme. The research proposal was submitted, reviewed, and the Spanish researchers obtained user access to LaserLaB Amsterdam to carry out the project in 2011.

The collaboration between the members of INQUIFOR and LaserLaB Amsterdam, experts in the analysis of explosives and in TRRS respectively, was considered a resounding success. With the technical support provided by the Amsterdam team, many experiments could be carried out in a short time span. The results obtained demonstrated that with TRRS the two main isomers of dinitrotoluene and other related explosive compounds can be detected non-invasively through different white plastic container walls several millimetres thick without having to manipulate the package.

In conclusion, this study provided a new analytical tool for the non-invasive detection of explosives in the security and forensic fields. The work was published in Analytical Chemistry, and attracted substantial national and international media attention.


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