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New Device Sniffs Out Black Powder Explosives 133

sciencehabit writes "The Boston marathon bombers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev reportedly purchased several pounds of black powder explosive before the bombing. Used in fireworks and bullets, the explosive substance is both deadly and widely available. It's also very hard to detect. Now, researchers have modified one bomb-sniffing device to accurately spot very small amounts of black powder, an advance that could make us safer from future attacks. What has prevented detection of black powder by IMS in the past, however, is that sulfur and oxygen -- which composes 20% of air—hit the detector at almost the same time. A strong oxygen signal can thus mask a small amount of sulfur, like what a bombmaker's dirty fingers might leave on a luggage strap. A group led by chemist Haiyang Li at the Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics in China modified an IMS to eliminate the oxygen signal. 'We have tested the sensitivity of TR-IMS, and its limit of detection of black powder can reach as low as 0.05 nanograms,' Li says."
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New Device Sniffs Out Black Powder Explosives

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 03, 2013 @04:48PM (#43624041)

    All I keep hearing about is knee jerk reactions to a sad but relatively trivial event in Boston.

  • Wow! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by bogidu ( 300637 ) on Friday May 03, 2013 @04:52PM (#43624093)

    Bullets are made out of black powder? All the ones I've used have been made out of lead or copper. How do those black powder bullets hold together?

    Reporters, please learn the difference between:

    Ammunition and bullets
    Magazines and clips
    Automatic vs Semi-Automatic

    etc, when talking about firearms.

  • Re:False Positives (Score:2, Insightful)

    by He Who Has No Name ( 768306 ) on Friday May 03, 2013 @04:53PM (#43624103)

    If it keeps ONE CHILD SAFE, we have to throw out all your civil liberties.

  • by CrimsonAvenger ( 580665 ) on Friday May 03, 2013 @05:47PM (#43624607)

    Black powder can be found almost everywhere, even in societies that do not have a gun-fetish.

    What does a "gun-fetish" have to do with it?

    Black powder isn't used in any commercial cartridges that I know of, and the overwhelming majority of gun owners don't own or use black powder for anything but their Fourth of July fireworks.

    It's mostly used by reenactors of various sorts, with muzzle-loading muskets/rifles/pistols/revolvers, and bought by the pound (I've got the best part of a pound in my ammo safe).

    Though, frankly, making it is not so difficult as all that.....

  • by BetterSense ( 1398915 ) on Friday May 03, 2013 @06:10PM (#43624857)
    You make my point for me. You DO NOT have to "qualified and liscenced" to have black powder. You DO NOT have to tell anyone (cops included) 'where you got it' anymore than you have to tell them where you bought your sneakers. What's the point in detecting something that is perfectly legal?

    It's sulphur, salpeter and charcoal.

I owe the public nothing. -- J.P. Morgan