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Breakthrough innovation in screening for explosives

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Breakthrough innovation in screening for explosives


In recent years, we’ve seen the harrowing effects of terror attacks take place across the globe. From football stadiums and theatres in Paris to places of worship and hotels in Sri Lanka and Indonesia, these incidents show the increasing use of organic peroxide explosive (OPE)-based improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

These OPEs can be prepared in ‘home laboratories’ from readily available materials such as hydrogen peroxide (H2O2), nitrogen-based fertilisers, acetones and mineral acids. Due to their extremely unstable nature, they can have devastating impacts and preemptive detection is crucial in averting disaster.

While there are regulations of use, transport and safety measures related to OPEs worldwide, there are no low-cost, simple and portable OPE screening methods for onsite use available to date.

Dr Parvez Mahbub’s primary DSI research focus seeks to change that and create a future that standardises the use of affordable, effective and efficient rapid detection and screening kits.

Dr Mahbub is a Senior Research Fellow at Victoria University and has spent the greater part of the last decade researching, publishing and investigating across the fields of microfluidics, separation science, electrochemistry and optical physics.

Funded by the DSI grant, Dr Mahbub’s research project investigates two alternate methods for OPE screening – the first using acid hydrolysis, the second using advanced light sources such as LEDs. Both methods show promise and replicability on larger scales.

Most common screening sites such as airports use the method of ion mobility spectrometry (IMS) to detect solid OPE samples onsite. To date, there are no onsite screening and detection methods for liquid OPE samples.

“The IMS method currently used for solid OPE samples onsite is costly, not portable and very complicated to use,” Dr Mahbub says.

“Developing simple microfluidic platforms can be employed to analyse both solid and liquid OPE samples from a surface which can overcome the positive or negative modes of operation that complicates the IMS-based systems,” he adds.

Part of Dr Mahbub’s DSI project findings were published in Analytica Chimica Acta and demonstrate the accuracy and precision of acid hydrolysis in OPE screening.

Once a pilot scale investigation can be carried out, Dr. Mahbub hopes to extend the technology towards rapid screening of nitroaromatic and cyclic nitramine explosives and broaden the net of safety in explosive detection for both commercial and military use.

 “I sincerely hope for future development of low-cost, portable and simple microfluidic kits for rapid screening and detection of multiple explosives that can be used by everybody,” says Dr Mahbub.

 To learn more about this project, or any other research collaboration projects facilitated by DSI, please contact us at











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