Prototype Sensor Detects Low Levels Of Explosives Quickly -- and at Low Cost


3/24/1996 - 30-96r
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NRL Prototype Sensor Detects Low Levels
of Explosives Quickly -- and at Low Cost


Scientists at the Center for Bio/Molecular Science and Engineering at the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) in Washington, DC, have developed an antibody-based sensor which can detect explosives at very low levels. This technology has applications in many areas, including the detection of illicit bombs and the monitoring of explosives in contaminated areas of the environment.

Because of pollution brought about by past explosives manufacturing and munitions storage practices, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has approved a laboratory method for testing water and soil samples for explosives. However, the standard test must be performed in analytical labs, which necessarily leads to delays of up to four weeks between sample acquisition and analysis. When polluted sites are initially identified, hundreds of samples must be analyzed to determine the extent of contamination, leading to millions of dollars being spent just to know where the explosives are.

NRL is one of many groups trying to develop a simpler, cheaper, faster device that can work at the polluted site to give results comparable to the standard assay. During the summer of 1995, the EPA held two tests of new devices, both commercially available ones and those still being tested as prototypes, in order to measure the effectiveness of such "on-site analysis" technology. These tests were held at Umatilla Army Depot Activity in Hermiston, Oregon, and Naval Submarine Base Bangor in Bangor, Washington, both of which are currently undergoing remediation for soil and groundwater pollution by explosives.

Although the NRL sensor is still a prototype, data collected during the field tests agreed well with results obtained using the EPA-approved laboratory method. However, the NRL device was able to generate these data on-site, within 1-2 minutes per sample, and at significantly lower cost than the currently used test. Thus, the feasibility of the sensor as an on-site analytical tool was demonstrated.



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The U.S. Naval Research Laboratory is the Navy's full-spectrum corporate laboratory, conducting a broadly based multidisciplinary program of scientific research and advanced technological development. The Laboratory, with a total complement of approximately 2,500 personnel, is located in southwest Washington, D.C., with other major sites at the Stennis Space Center, Miss., and Monterey, Calif. NRL has served the Navy and the nation for over 90 years and continues to meet the complex technological challenges of today's world. For more information, visit the NRL homepage or join the conversation on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.

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