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Explosives Forensics

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Explosive Forensics

Daniel Glass
Criminal Investigations
Professor Barbara Bailey

August 21, 2011

Explosive investigations have changed over the years, from first being searched out by visual with law enforcement to today’s advanced technology devices. It has gone from knowing the type of explosive to being able to identify a specific manufacturer. Even today it continues to advance and evolve to become more helpful in finding and punishing the individuals responsible.
Bomb detection has been as issue throughout history since the inception of mass detonation devices. At first the main method was through looking at the shape of the device since the explosives were large and had a defined look based on the materials, detonation device and such. Usually it was done after the fact by searching for the components, explosive residue and such to look for a specific trait of a bomb maker or type of explosive used.
It has always been the driven by the research for our military to create more weapons and ways to keep them from detection. It started with humans looking at the objects, and then advanced to using X-rays and such, to detection dogs, dolphins, and so on up to today’s vapor detection systems.
Current Reasons for Advances in Detection
The following instances are just a basis for the push to expand our capabilities to detect explosives. It is a needed capability to protect our citizens. * 1983 Marine Barracks Bombing Lebanon * 1988 Pan Am Flight 103 Lockerbie, Scotland * 1993 World Trade Center Bombing * 1995 Murray Building Oklahoma * 1996 Khobar Towers, Saudi Arabia * 1998 U.S. Embassy Kenya and Tanzania * 2000 USS Cole, Yemen, Aden * 2001 9/11
From the IRA in the UK, to Hamas and Al-Qaida terrorist are everywhere including homegrown such as McVeigh in the Oklahoma bombing. The attacks on U.S. soil on September 11th 2001 brought that home immensely and allowed for a stronger research based on those deeds.
The idea of having humans to test for things stems back centuries to people tasting food for royals to ensure no poisons(Marshall, M. & Oxley, J., 2009). The Human aspect required the ability to detect the bomb in the pre-use stage through the investigations through informants as to who was making them, or in mass transit areas looking for odd shaped packages or bags. Otherwise wise it would be after the fact to gather as much evidence to perform tests using colored detection papers looking for the trace elements of the chemicals used (Marshall, M. & Oxley, J., 2009).
Animal Detection Using animals for detection has been around for centuries as well as humans, canaries were used in mines to warm of toxic fumes, dogs, bees, dolphins and rodents are use to search for different drugs, and chemical components. Dolphins are used by the U.S. Navy to find mines and underwater bombs using their sonar. Dogs are the most popular due to the heightened sense of smell. Dogs need to be trained to detect specific explosive components, drugs or such by using samples to teach them what to look for in the search. It is an effective method and has been very successful. The dogs are used the most because of their reliability, portability and affordability (Marshall, M. & Oxley, J., 2009).
Colorimetric Detection Another method which was designed for the military was the use of reagent papers. It is able to detect the compounds but is not perfect since other items can give the same reaction.
X-ray detection has been used for years in airports to search through baggage for possible IED’s, weapons and such. X-rays have advanced over the years from single to dual to CT scans.
Mass spectrometry Mass spectrometry is used in the lab to identify components after an explosion to help determine possibly the maker or chemical components to determine possible sources of suppliers. Explosive detection uses one of two types of the quad pole or ion (Marshall, M. & Oxley, J., 2009). This gave way to the Vapor Trac and new portable spectrometers. Such as the solid phase micro extraction (SPME) system, this can detect many different explosive compounds and allows it to be portable and accurate. However like all things can make mistakes if not calibrated and has troubles in large rooms hence the need for an adaptor (Lai, H., Leung, A., Magee, M., Almirall, J., 2010).
Traces can be detect to the nanogram level this is a major assets to finding out what and who make have made the explosives. Inorganic salts and peroxides are the basis for most improvised explosives and devices. They are popular with terrorist because of their readily available supply in the open market.
The Future devices
The future of explosive detection keeps advancing and the Raman detector is no different it uses laser technology combined with the spectrometry to identify the elements of the explosives. They are working on a way to detect the trace elements which are absorbed into the maker’s body and can be detected in urine, feces, and hair fibers and such. Wasps are a future bio-detector because of their sensitive ability to detect microscopic traces of chemicals.
In all of the different methods there is a good accuracy of detection yet even still some false alarms will happen. But today there are more successful detections then false alarms.
As we look to the future things which seemed only science fiction a decade or two ago are everyday coming to reality. This is inspiring since everyday terrorist on all fronts are out there plotting, our advances give us the opportunity to stop them before they can perpetrate these heinous acts.

Marshall, M., & Oxley, J. (2009). Aspects of Explosives Detection, Elsevier, Oxford, UK.
Identification of volatile chemical signatures from plastic explosives by SPME-GC/MS and detection by ion mobility spectrometry. Retrieved from EBSChost.
Profiling the chemical composition of explosives. Retrieved from EBSChost.
Explosives analysis Retrieved from EBSChost.
Bioassays for bomb-makers: proof of concept. Retrieved from EBSChost.
Detection of illicit substances in fingerprints by infrared spectral imaging Retrieved from EBSChost.
Portable Raman explosives detection Retrieved from EBSChost.
Analysis of Explosives Using Ultra Performance Liquid Chromatography (UPLC®) with UV and/or Mass Spectrometry Detection. Retrieved from EBSChost.
Luminescence-based methods for sensing and detection of explosives. Retrieved from EBSChost.
Development of Microplitis croceipes as a biological sensor. Retrieved from EBSChost.
Characterization and Identification of Explosives and Explosive Residues Using GC-MS, an FTIR Microscope, and HPTLC Retrieved from EBSChost.
Anti-Terrorism Focus Retrieved from EBSChost.
Explosives Test Kit. Retrieved from EBSChost.
Laboratory and field experiments used to identify Canis lupus var. familiaris active odor signature chemicals from drugs, explosives, and humans. Retrieved from EBSChost.
THE FATE OF FLIGHT 800: THE EVIDENCE;What Made Flight 800 Explode? A Chemical Answer Could Come Down to a Speck. Retrieved from EBSChost.
TERROR IN OKLAHOMA: THE SCIENCE; Experts Search for Debris To Link Bomb to a Suspect. Retrieved from EBSChost.

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