Hebrew University scientist’s spray detector can catch terrorists red-handed

November 14th, 2007 - 8:13 am ICT by admin  
Professor Joseph Almog of the Hebrew University’s Casali Institute of Applied Chemistry has developed a new chemical spray detector that detects the home made explosive urea nitrate.

When sprayed on cotton swabs taken from the hands of a suspect, if they have had recent contact with urea nitrate, the chemical will turn a blood red hue.

According to Professor Almog, his spray can detect minute traces of the improvised explosive on hands of suspects, door handles, luggage containers and vehicles, and it can distinguish between sugar or any innocent looking powder and urea nitrate.

Urea nitrate is a powerful improvised explosive, frequently used by Palestinian terrorists in Israel. It was also used in the first World Trade Center bombing in New York in 1993.

Urea nitrate is a colourless crystalline substance that looks very much like sugar, which makes it very difficult to detect. Non-professionals can prepare large amounts of this material in “back-yard” facilities.

The development of a colour test will therefore be a significant aid to forensic scientists.

The test is based on the formation of a red dye in the chemical reaction between p-dimethylaminocinnamaldehyde and urea nitrate under neutral conditions.

The initial findings of the project, which was supported in part by the US/Israel Bilateral Committee on Counter-Terrorism, were published in the Journal of Forensic Sciences.

The second part of the work, carried out by research student Nitay Lemberger, involved unequivocal structure elucidation of the red dye.

Although instruments do already exist to detect urea nitrate, they are much more sophisticated and quite expensive.

Professor Almog, who says the spray detector is easy to use and inexpensive, sees it being adopted as a standard arsenal of law enforcement agencies, security services, and the military and at certain check-points at air and sea ports.

Professor Almog is a former Israeli Police Brigadier General and Director of the Identification and Forensic Science Division of the Israeli Police. (ANI)

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