How chemists plan to sniff out terrorist bombs

Chemists are seeking to exploit a physical characteristic of TATP known as vapour pressure. This property refers to how readily a compound converts from the solid to the gaseous state.

Because TATP has a relatively high vapour pressure, it easily becomes a gas. Therefore, in theory, a suicide bomber wearing a vest containing TATP should emit enough gaseous particles to set off the alarm on a sensor.

Dr Suslick’s group has developed a handheld scanner that detects TATP and other explosives after they react with a colorimetric sensor array. His work is funded by the US Department of Defense.

When gaseous TATP molecules enter the sensor, they encounter a solid acid catalyst. The acid converts TATP back into its constituent parts, acetone and hydrogen peroxide.