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Navy Lab Refines Chem-Bio Sensor Tech

The U.S. Naval Research Laboratory announced last week it has refined a potential chemical- and biological-weapon agent scanning system to spot and characterize minuscule amounts of warfare material (see GSN, Jan. 24).

Scientists headed by Joshua Caldwell and Orest Glembocki discovered that specially engineered metal nanoparticles make "surface-enhanced Raman scattering" technology 108 million times more sensitive.

When enhanced with the material, SERS detection is "over an order-of-magnitude more sensitive than the best reported SERS sensors in the literature and the current state-of-the-art large-area commercial SERS sensors," Caldwell said in a statement. The refined technology "can be a key component of fully integrated, autonomously operating chemical sensors that detect, identify and report the presence of a threat at trace levels of exposure," he said.

"While many tools are currently available to detect trace amounts of chemical warfare and biological agents and explosive compounds, a device using SERS can be used to identify these minute quantities of the chemicals of interest by providing a 'fingerprint' of the material, which all but eliminates the prevalence of false alarms," Glembocki said in the press release.

The technique might offer a higher sensitivity, scanning rate and level of mobility than separate spectroscopic detection technologies, according to the statement. The new detection method could augment Raman scanning technologies already employed in portable and longer-distance detection equipment, it adds (U.S. Naval Research Laboratory release, Feb. 10).

NTI Analysis