Laser vaporization of trace explosives for enhanced non-contact detection

Robert Furstenberg, Michael Papantonakis, Christopher A. Kendziora, Daniel M. Bubb, Jeffrey Corgan, R. Andrew McGill

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

10 Scopus citations


Trace explosives contamination is found primarily in the form of solid particulates on surfaces, due to the low vapor pressure of most explosives materials. Today, the standard sampling procedure involves physical removal of particulate matter from surfaces of interest. A variety of collection methods have been used including air-jetting or swabbing surfaces of interest. The sampled particles are typically heated to generate vapor for analysis in hand held, bench top, or portal detection systems. These sampling methods are time-consuming (and hence costly), require a skilled technician for optimal performance, and are inherently non-selective, allowing non-explosives particles to be co-sampled and analyzed. This can adversely affect the sensitivity and selectivity of detectors, especially those with a limited dynamic range. We present a new approach to sampling solid particles on a solid surface that is targeted, non-contact, and which selectively enhances trace explosive signatures thus improving the selectivity and sensitivity of existing detectors. Our method involves the illumination of a surface of interest with infrared laser light with a wavelength that matches a distinctive vibrational mode of an explosive. The resonant coupling of laser energy results in rapid heating of explosive particles and rapid release of a vapor plume. Neighboring particles unrelated to explosives are generally not directly heated as their vibrational modes are not resonant with the laser. As a result, the generated vapor plume includes a higher concentration of explosives than if the particles were heated with a non-selective light source (e.g. heat lamp). We present results with both benchtop infrared lasers as well as miniature quantum cascade lasers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationChemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and Explosives (CBRNE) Sensing XI
StatePublished - 2010
EventChemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and Explosives (CBRNE) Sensing XI - Orlando, FL, United States
Duration: Apr 6 2010Apr 8 2010

Publication series

NameProceedings of SPIE - The International Society for Optical Engineering
ISSN (Print)0277-786X


OtherChemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and Explosives (CBRNE) Sensing XI
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CityOrlando, FL

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Electronic, Optical and Magnetic Materials
  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Applied Mathematics
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering


  • Explosives detection
  • infrared laser
  • ion mobility spectrometry
  • laser heating
  • quantum cascade laser
  • resonant heating
  • swabbing
  • trace detection
  • vapor plume


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