New product may eliminate airport liquid prohibitions

There may be hope for those who do not like walking barefoot in the airport or having that soft drink confiscated at the boarding ramp.

Scientists have described development and successful initial tests of a spray-on material that both detects and renders harmless the genre of terrorist explosives responsible for government restrictions on liquids that can be carried onboard airliners. The ink-like explosive detector/neutralizer was described at the American Chemical Society meeting in Anaheim, California.

The material is a type of ink made of tiny metallic oxide nanoparticles so small that 50,000 could fit inside the diameter of a single human hair, said the chemical society. The ink changes color, from dark blue to pale yellow or clear, in the presence of very small concentrations of explosives. It also changes from a metallic conductor to a
non-conducting material, making electronic sensing also possible, the society added.

The same color-changing material can also serve as an explosives neutralizer. Firefighters and bomb squad technicians could spray the ink onto bombs or suspicious packages until the color change indicates that the devices are no longer a threat, said Allen Apblett, who led the development team, according to a society press release. Technicians could also dump the explosives into vats containing the ink to neutralize them, it added.

Apblett is a chemist at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater. He noted that authorities are concerned about peroxide-based explosives, made from hydrogen peroxide, which are easy to make and set off, the chemical society said. These explosives first drew public attention in 2001, when thwarted shoe bomber Richard Reid tried to use one such substance as the detonator onboard a commercial airliner.

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