Ways to detect, thwart terrorist acts scrutinized during ACS national meeting



WASHINGTON — Detecting and identifying weapons of mass destruction is key to thwarting acts of terrorism. Researchers are scrambling to develop detection devices that quickly and accurately root out these weapons before they can be used. More than 40 presentations over five days will focus on the promise and challenges of these emerging technologies during the 230th national meeting of the American Chemical Society, the world’s largest scientific society, in Washington, D.C., Aug. 28 – Sept. 1. Highlights from the special symposium, "Sensors and Instrumentation for Counterterrorism," are listed below:

(All sessions are at the Washington Convention Center, Room 154A)

Sunday, Aug. 28

Early warning monitors could save lives — Regional sensors that provide early warning signs of an impending chemical or nuclear terrorist attack could save countless lives. ADA Technologies and Clemson University are developing an easy-to-use, wireless sensor network that can be deployed throughout a city or region either permanently or for short periods. The sensors can detect nerve agents, assess radiation levels and monitor weather conditions. Information provided by the sensors could help law enforcement officers track down terrorists before they strike or help officials successfully conduct evacuations and clean-up if an attack occurs. Patrick French of ADA Technologies is the presenter. (ANYL 38, Sunday, Aug. 28, 4:35 p.m.)

Tuesday, Aug. 30

The challenge of detecting hidden explosives — Uncovering concealed explosives in luggage, airplanes and on suicide bombers is a major challenge. In this overview, Jehuda Yinon of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel describes the pros and cons of current explosive detection devices and discusses technological advances that could help deal with this threat. (ANYL 315, Tuesday, Aug. 30, 8:30 a.m.)

Radio waves rapidly identify non-metallic weapons — David Sheen and other researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have developed a safe, fast and effective method for detecting and identifying plastic explosives and other non-metallic weapons. The technology, called active millimeter-wave imaging, relies on high-frequency radio waves to form a high-resolution, three-dimensional image of a person. The images reveal hidden explosives and other weapons based on their shape and reflectivity. (ANYL 318, Tuesday, Aug. 30, 10:10 a.m.)

Wednesday, Aug. 31

Tracking down the sources of nuclear material — After illicitly trafficked radioactive material is seized, the real investigative work begins for nuclear forensic scientists. These scientists carefully analyze chemical, isotopic and other clues in order to help law enforcement officials nab the culprits and shut down the operation. In many cases, they can determine the intended use, origin, last legal owner and smuggling route of the material. Maria Wallenius of the Institute for Transuranium Elements in Germany describes the achievements and challenges of this new field of investigative research. (ANYL 374, Wednesday, Aug. 31, 8:35 a.m.)

Thursday, Sept. 1

Cases of mistaken identity — Portable field detectors can help emergency response teams quickly assess the chemical properties of an unknown substance and determine if it is dangerous. But errors can result with unfortunate consequences. Jarrad Wagner of the FBI Laboratory in Quantico, Va., will describe a few incidents where errors in using detectors or misinterpreting results occurred. (ANYL 442, Thursday, Sept. 1, 8:30 a.m.)

Sensors streamline detection of botulism and other neurotoxins — Chemists at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) have found a way to quickly detect the presence of the bacteria that produce botulism, one of the world’s most lethal substances. The detection system, known as BEADS (Biodetection Enabling Analyte Delivery System), can determine within about five minutes if botulinum — the bacterium responsible for botulism — is present, compared to the 20-25 minutes needed by other systems. In addition to detecting botulinum, the system can be tailored to detect multiple pathogens or toxins, such as E. coli, salmonella and ricin, simultaneously. PNNL researcher Heather Edberg will describe this new technology and its potential commercial uses. (ANYL 443, Thursday, Sept. 1, 9 a.m.)

The American Chemical Society is a nonprofit organization, chartered by the U.S.

Congress, with a multidisciplinary membership of more than 158,000 chemists and chemical engineers. It publishes numerous scientific journals and databases, convenes major research conferences and provides educational, science policy and career programs in chemistry. Its main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.

— Doug Dollemore

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