Using Technology To Fight Terrorism

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The world is undergoing rapid change. Economies are expanding; tourism and travel are on the rise. Yet from Mumbai to Madrid, from Karachi to London, nations across around the globe have been stung by acts of terrorism. Traditional approaches of tighter controls on travel, commerce and the media can help insulate a society from danger, but risk limiting a region's potential growth and prosperity. Nations need tools to help reap the benefits of global commerce, international tourism and freedom of information, while reducing the risks of terrorism and crime.

The wave of global innovation has driven tremendous advances in technology. Breakthroughs in rugged miniature computers and optical systems have ushered in whole new families of consumer products from MP3 players to the most advanced mobile phones. This same spirit of innovation is creating sophisticated instrumentation to improve safety and security. One area of growth is in Raman spectroscopy, a laser-based technology well-suited for explosives screening at airports and rapid assessment of potentially hazardous materials.

Raman Spectroscopy for Security Checkpoints

The extremely large volume of passengers entering airport terminals, city transit systems, and border entry points requires detection systems that can reliably and efficiently screen potentially dangerous packages and containers.

Currently, standard transmission X-ray systems are used to monitor the images of various objects in packages. More advanced X-ray systems use effective atomic number Zeff and density to separate explosive materials from benign materials. Due to intrinsic selectivity limitations, these systems very often are triggered by common innocuous materials such as chocolate and plastics. In the meantime, non-nitrates based explosives, such as acetone peroxide (TATP) and HMDT, will not be detected by currently installed X-ray or neutron systems. Robust and handheld detection systems that have the capability to rapidly and accurately identify various explosives and their precursors are needed to supplement these technologies.

FirstDefender Handheld Raman for Chemical Identification
FirstDefender Handheld Raman for Chemical Identification
Unknown chemical quickly identified through glass
Unknown chemical quickly identified through glass

Raman spectroscopy holds great promise to quickly screen bottles for explosives, flammable materials and dangerous chemicals. During a scan, a laser is focused on a sample, causing inelastic scattering of the reflected light which is collected back into the instrument for analysis. Each chemical has a unique Raman signature - much like a human fingerprint - that is used to identify the substance.

Because Raman is an optical technology, it is able to analyze samples though various transparent glass and plastic containers, such as beverage bottles or food containers. This allows the contents of a container to be analyzed without opening the container, minimizing exposure to potentially harmful substances and helping to speed the screening process.

Security checkpoint verifies bottle contents
Security checkpoint verifies bottle contents

FirstDefender, Ahura Scientific's handheld Raman system, is already used by hazmat, military, law enforcement and federal agencies for identification of unknown substances. Advanced software has been specifically designed for use by security personnel at airports, rail stations, sports complexes and government buildings to ensure prompt screening of containers for explosive compounds and their precursors.

Using Raman spectroscopy, FirstDefender provides a rapid screening method that is complementary to X-ray, neutron, and IMS technologies for explosive detection and identification. Using multi-dimensional molecular signatures to fingerprint the suspect material, Raman spectrometry is more selective than X-ray and neutron-based instruments. The rapid and accurate chemical identification of suspicious materials offers domestic security and law enforcement personnel a unique tool to deter potential terrorist threats

Raman Spectroscopy for Law Enforcement and Hazmat

In addition to aviation security, Raman spectroscopy has proven valuable in the clean-up of methamphetamine and other illicit drug labs, as well as in forensic investigations and hazmat incidents.

As in explosives identification, the Raman spectrum of a sample is collected and then matched against the stored Raman spectrum library which includes various chemical weapons, industrial materials, explosives, narcotics, as well as relatively benign chemical precursors that could be used to fabricate explosives or narcotics. Spectral libraries can be added in minutes by the user for additional compounds of interest.

Security screening display quickly alerts operator to harmful materials
Security screening display quickly alerts operator to harmful materials

Existing techniques to identify narcotics and other suspicious substances involve contacting the material and often sending it to a lab for analysis. This costs valuable time and often limits the opportunity to gather additional information from the crime scene. The ability to shine a laser through a bag, bottle or vial to instantly identify a substance can speed the assessment of the potential danger during a lab seizure, and keep security personnel safe from exposure to chemicals and traps. Since there's no need to move materials or collect samples to perform on-the-spot analysis, the crime scene remains undisturbed and the evidence uncontaminated.

An additional benefit of Raman spectroscopy is for forensic evidence collection. Several methods of chemical identification destroy the sample during identification, particularly problematic when only small amounts of evidence are available. However, by using Raman technology in situ, identification can be made while the sample remains unchanged. Security personnel can identify substances immediately - leading to quick action - and samples can be collected and maintained as evidence.


Building a global economic system that is both more secure and more efficient is a monumental undertaking - and one that is critically important to the peace and prosperity of our planet. Success in fulfilling this vision will require enhanced cooperation, new procedures, and greater use of advanced technology. Ahura is working hard to advance the technology and develop innovative accurate products to protect society. The versatile FirstDefender is an example of such a breakthrough product for rapid and accurate chemical screening for military and civilian security personnel.

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