URI Professor Creates Portable Bomb Detector

Apr 17, 2018

A chemical engineering professor at the University of Rhode Island has created a portable bomb detector. The device is about the size of a toolbox, with a handle on top, and weighs 15 pounds. 

Professor Otto Gregory said the box can detect vapors from explosives that have become popular with terrorists, such as triacetone triperoxide, or TATP. 

"That was used in the Brussels airport bombings and the Paris bombings. That seems to be the explosive of choice for a lot of terrorists because the materials are so readily available," said Gregory. 

Like a bomb-sniffing dog, you can walk the device around airports, train stations, or public places to look for the presence of explosives.

"The idea of portability means now you can roam in crowds if you will, sniffing all the time. It’s a completely passive sniffing application, so just like a dog," said Gregory.

But unlike a dog, the machine doesn’t need rest or training.

Gregory worked with students to develop the device, with funding from the Department of Homeland Security. He says field tests have shown promise, and he is looking for companies or other organizations to help bring the device to market. He hopes to eventually create a prototype that is as small as a cell phone.

While the device would not have detected the black powder used in the bombs that went off during the Boston Marathon five years ago, Gregory said the running of the race this week was on his mind.

"It brings back lots of thoughts about what happened, and what we can do to prevent things like that from happening again, and that’s what I hope this technology will do in the long run."