Calgary Herald: University of Alberta researcher devises strip of paper to detect explosives

Small strips of paper could soon be playing a large role in airport security.

University of Alberta and Mitacs researcher Christina Gonzalez has devised a method to instantly detect small quantities of chemicals used in explosive devices by deploying specialized, disposable strips of paper.

Mitacs is a national non-profit organization that connects post-secondary researchers with industry professionals.

The portable, pocket-sized technology is lined with silicon quantum dots, tiny semiconductor particles that can detect chemicals. A strip glows red under an ultraviolet flashlight or lamp, but if swiped along a surface containing explosives the red colouring disappears right away.

“It’s essentially a chemical reaction between the quantum dots and the explosives themselves,” said Gonzalez, who also collaborated with Edmonton-based Applied Quantum Materials Inc. (AQM) to commercialize her invention.

The use of quantum dots isn’t entirely new, Gonzalez said, but the technology has mostly focused on toxic or scarce heavy metals such as cadmium, lead or indium. Gonzalez and AQM are now working with the RCMP to test and validate the technology to determine its potential in real-life scenarios.

Apart from airport security, the strips could also potentially be used to swipe different areas of a crime scene, RCMP Sgt. Greg Baird said.

“It is important to have the ability to quickly and accurately determine if explosives, homemade or commercial, were used or going to be used in the commission of an offence,” Baird said in a news release.

“We see this as a portable, user-friendly and quick method of achieving that. The results are presumptive and would still require further analysis by our explosives laboratory.”

Use of the small paper strips is appealing because they are cheaper, smaller and quicker than current technologies used to detect explosives, Gonzalez said.

Down the road, her team hopes to look into other uses including drug detection, food safety and disease diagnosis. The strips would work in a similar way by changing appearance for a positive result.

“Our future plans include exploring the use of the strip to test for the presence of drugs, such as fentanyl or cocaine,” AQM CEO David Antoniuk said in the news release.

Source: Calgary Herald