Scientists Develop Sensor To Detect Chemicals Used In High-energy Explosives


New Delhi, Sep 24: Indian scientists have for the first time developed a thermally stable and cost-effective electronic polymer-based sensor for rapidly detecting nitro-aromatic chemicals used in high-energy explosives, the Department of Science and Technology (DST) said on Friday. The detection of explosives without destroying them is essential for protection, and criminal investigations, minefield remediation, military applications, ammunition remediation sites, security applications, and chemical sensors play a vital role in such cases, it said. Explosive poly-nitroaromatic compounds can be analysed usually by sophisticated instrumental techniques. But the requirements for quick decision making in criminology laboratories or reclaimed military sites or to detect explosives in possession of extremists often require simple, cheap, and selective field techniques, which will be non-destructive in nature, the DST said. Non-destructive sensing of nitroaromatic chemicals (NACs) is difficult, it said. While earlier studies are based mostly on photo-luminescent property, detection on the basis of conducting property has not been explored so far, it said. Detection on the basis of conducting property helps in making a handy detection device where results can be seen with the help of LED, the department said.

To overcome such disadvantages, a team of scientists, led by Neelotpal Sen Sarma from the Institute of Advanced Study in Science and Technology, Guwahati, an autonomous institute of the DST, has developed a layer-by-layer (LBL) polymer detector consisting of two organic polymers — poly-2-vinyl pyridine with acrylonitrile (P2VP-Co-AN) and copolysulfone of cholesteryl methacrylate with hexane (PCHMASH), it said. This undergoes a drastic change in impedance (resistance in an ac circuit) in the presence of very low concentration of NACs vapour within a few seconds, the DST said. Here, picric acid (PA) was chosen as the model NAC, and a simple and cost-effective electronic prototype was developed for visual detection of PA. The team has filed a patent for the novel technology funded by the Department of Electronics and Information Technology, it said.

“An electronic sensing device build around a polymer gas sensor can quickly detect the explosive on-site,” said Sarma. The sensor device comprises of three layers — polymers copolysulfone of cholesteryl methacrylate along with 1-hexene (PCHMASH), and copolymer of poly-2-vinyl pyridine with acrylonitrile by sandwiching PCHMASH in between two P2VP-Co-AN outer layers by stainless steel (SS) mesh, the DST said. The sensitivity of the system is determined by monitoring the change in the impedance response with time (seconds) in the presence of the vapour of the analyte (picric acid), it said.

The tri-layer polymer matrix was found to be a very efficient molecular sensor for nitroaromatic chemicals. The sensor device is quite simple and reversible in nature, and its response does not alter with varying operating temperature in presence of other common chemicals and humidity. The device can be operated at room temperature, has a low response time and negligible interference from other chemicals. The fabrication is a very simple, is negligibly affected by humidity, and the cholesterol-based polymers used are biodegradable, the DST said.

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