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D. The Old Chemistry Behind a New Explosives Detector

Narrator: This is Science Today. A portable, inexpensive explosives detector called the ELITE was developed by researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Lab chemist Peter Nunes says ELITE is based on a chemistry method called thin layer chromatography, which has been around for over a hundred years.

Nunes: You take a glass plate, put your sample on it and then you use chemicals to move your sample from the bottom of the plate and it moves up. Depending on what type of chemical it is, it stops at different points on the plate and you can make a determination as to what's in your sample.

Narrator: Instead of using a thin layer glass plate, Nunes says they modified ELITE to use a proprietary swipe. The ELITE has ampoules that contain small amounts of chemical reagents that, when broken, cause a color change if explosives are detected. The next step will be using what's called micro encapsulation.

Nunes: And that's where we have little, very tiny spheres that would be part of the swipe itself and inside those little spheres would be our chemical reagents.

Narrator: For Science Today, I'm Larissa Branin .