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Terror in the air: Science has a way out

A newly devised test could help detect chemical precursors of explosives easily. Can science help wipe out terrorism?

india Updated: Sep 13, 2006 18:39 IST

Scientists in the US have developed a test that they claim could help detect chemical precursors of homemade explosives easily and can prevent potential bomb attacks on aircraft.

Christopher Chang and colleagues at the University of California in Berkeley have developed the compounds for basic research into oxidative stress, which they say could be adapted to detect the chemical precursors of homemade explosives, reported the online edition of New Scientist.

British authorities recently uncovered an alleged plot to blow up airplanes using homemade explosives produced on board using chemicals such as hydrogen peroxide. Similar homemade explosives were used in the London subway bombings in 2005, which killed over 50 people.

The explosives triacetone triperoxide (TATP) and hexamethylene triperoxide diamine, (HMTD) can be made using hydrogen peroxide and other chemicals. But airport screening devices are not able to detect hydrogen peroxide directly.

In the wake of arrests associated with the recent plot, airport security guards have prevented liquids and gels from being taken on board flights and many airlines have continued the ban.

The new test uses a class of chemical compounds called "Peroxysensors" that were designed to detect hydrogen peroxide, which is generated in cells that are undergoing oxidative stress from ageing and ageing-related diseases, Chang said.

"When we saw that a lot of explosive mixtures used by terrorists contain peroxides and other molecules that are similar, we made the link and saw that this technique could be applicable," said Chang.

Potential bomb attacks on aircraft could be more easily detected thanks to this new test for hydrogen peroxide, one of the liquids that have sparked dramatic security clampdowns at airports around the world, the report said.

First Published: Aug 26, 2006 11:32 IST