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Bomb Detecting Spray

November 28, 2007

A new spray makes would-be bombers’ hands turn red.


Spraying for explosives. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

A new chemical spray could literally catch terrorists red-handed. It was developed by forensic chemist Joseph Almog at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel. The non-toxic spray turns blood red when it touches urea nitrate. That’s a common ingredient in many homemade bombs, including the one used in the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993.

JOSEPH ALMOG (Hebrew University, Jerusalem):
Under laboratory conditions, we’ve been able to detect a few micrograms of urea nitrate; this is an amount that you hardly see.

Since urea nitrate looks like sugar or salt to the naked eye, the test could be invaluable to anti-terror agents. Almog has also developed other colorful chemical detectors; one of them turns purple on contact with iron residues, indicating a suspect might recently have held a weapon. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.