New material detects explosives at airports

Scientists have created a material that lights up in the presence of explosives.
Credit: Steffen Bähring/SDU
Credit: Steffen Bähring/SDU

Researchers on the forefront of bomb detection technology have redesigned the method used to locate explosives at airports. Currently, security measures include fluorescent materials that lose their fluorescence when in contact with explosive materials. But, a number of factors can cause these materials to lose fluorescence, making the approach largely unreliable.

Lead author, Dr. Steffen Bähring explains that current methods became fluorescent when there were no explosives molecules in the vicinity. "The problem was that several factors could make the fluorescence disappear; a number of salts for example had this effect. Thus these substances could give off a false alarm.”

Researchers at the University of Southern Denmark have developed a new material from molecules that are not fluorescent. One molecule, called TNDCF, only becomes fluorescent when it comes into contact with molecules found in explosives and certain salts, reducing the risk of a false alarm.

Bähring explained that the tool is a much more reliable way to detect explosives: "This new knowledge could lead to creating a small device based on this set of molecules," Bähring says. "With such a device security staff in airports could [for example] test if there are explosives molecules on or near a bag."

The innovation is a great step forward for airport security, a location prone to threats from terrorist organisations around the world.