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Soon, bomb making materials will be identified in just 30 seconds. A method to scan for and identify a wide range of bomb-making materials has been developed by researchers at the UK University of Surrey. The chemical fingerprinting technology requires the swabbing of materials, which can then be tested. The method can identify trace amounts of a variety of chemicals used in explosives, including peroxide-based explosives.

The researchers have built on their previous ground-breaking work on super-fast fingerprint drug testing, to develop a technique that is able to detect key explosives in just 30 seconds.

The new detection method is able to analyse a wider range of materials than current thermal based detection systems used in today’s airports, while reducing false positive reports.

The team previously demonstrated the method, called paper spray mass spectrometry, using high resolution mass spectrometry, an imaging technology used to identify the spectral signatures of different chemicals. High resolution mass spectrometry requires bulky, expensive machinery.

In tests, the swab spray technique achieved higher sensitivity to explosive materials than previous methods that rely on portable mass spectrometry, according to international news agencies. 

The new method also worked on dirty surfaces, like used keyboards. The method relies on a special paper substrate and swabbing material, which produces a cleaner spectra to be read by portable mass spectrometers.

Surrey researcher Melanie Bailey said: “The current thermal based way of detecting explosive material is becoming outdated and has the propensity of producing false positives. What we demonstrate with our research is an extremely fast, accurate and sensitive detection system that is able to identify a wide range of explosive materials.”

Scientists suggest the new technology could also be used to detect drugs. In addition to being sensitive, accurate and timely, the detection method produces fewer false positives.