The ability to detect trace amounts of explosives and their residues in real time is of vital interest to Homeland Security and the military. Previous work at the US Army Research Laboratory (ARL) demonstrated the potential of laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS) for the detection of energetic materials. Our recent efforts have been focused on improving the sensitivity and selectivity of LIBS for residue explosives detection and on extending this work to the standoff detection of explosive residues. One difficulty with detecting energetic materials is that the contribution to the oxygen and nitrogen signals from air can impede the identification of the explosive material. Techniques for reducing the air entrainment into the plasma—such as using an argonbuffer gas or a collinear double-pulse configuration—have been investigated for this application. In addition to the laboratory studies, ARL’s new double-pulse standoff system (ST-LIBS) has recently been used to detect explosive residues at 20 m. The efficacy of chemometric techniques such as linear correlation, principal components analysis (PCA), and partial least squares discriminant analysis (PLS-DA) for the identification of explosive residues is also discussed. We have shown that despite the typical characterization of LIBS as an elemental technique, the relative elemental intensities in the LIBS spectra are representative of the stoichiometry of the parent molecules and can be used to discriminate materials containing the same elements. Simultaneous biohazard and explosive residue discrimination at standoff distances has also been demonstrated.
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Journal of Analytical Atomic Spectrometry
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