NIST Test Samples Aid Explosives Detection

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has released new test samples to help detect two explosive compounds that terrorists use.

The new test samples stimulate the size and behavior of residues left after someone handles the explosives PETN (pentaerythritol tetranitrate) and TATP (triacetone triperoxide).

Instrument developers, academic researchers and government labs can use them to validate new detector designs.

After someone handles explosive compounds, the residue can stay on their skin or clothing.

Both PETN and TATP are difficult to detect.

At airports, for example, security personnel look for PETN and TAPT by collecting residue with handheld swipe wands. They then heat the swipes to vaporize the explosives and analyze them in a tabletop detectors. Detectors use a technique called mobility mass spectronometry that can recognize specific ionized chemicals based on their chemical properties.

The 2002 shoe bomber and 2009 underwear bomber used both compounds in their failed terrorist attacks.

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