Detecting Deadly Chemicals
Reported December 2006
LOS ALAMOS, N.M. (Ivanhoe Broadcast News) -- Whether it's a murder, a break-in, or an anthrax scare, investigators trying to solve a crime are burdened with collecting delicate, sometimes toxic evidence. Next, cynthia demos shows us a new device that does all the work.
Mention white powder and mail, and who can forget the deadly anthrax scare that swept America? Jennifer Greenamoyer remembers it well. "This is the building where they sort the mail, and this building was contaminated and was the first building to be closed," she says.
Greenamoyer was a Congressional Staffer during anthrax scare. "Even though I didn't necessarily feel like I was exposed or I was kind of at-risk -- you knew that other people in the building had been."
She was safe, but there's still danger to investigators going back inside to collect samples for analysis. A new device, called the Hands-Off Sampler Gun, eliminates the risk of collecting toxic materials.
"You don't get exposed yourself to the potential agent, anthrax, and you're also not contaminating the sample media," computer scientist Torsten Staab, Ph.D., of the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, tells Ivanhoe.
Traditional ways of gathering harmful chemicals use many gadgets. This device puts several technologies into one, easy-to-use gun.
Developed by computer scientists, the Hands-Off Sampler Gun has a cotton pad that grabs chemicals to eliminate direct contact with anything harmful. A GPS system tracks the location of a chemical and the investigator. It also includes a camera that snaps pictures for evidence and a voice recorder and writing pad to take digital notes. The all-in-one device is important to identify a chemical and its risk factor and make sure everything is safe for everyone.
The Sampler Gun could also be made useful for collecting evidence, like bloodstains at crimes scenes. "We have all the information at the end, electronically. It could be wirelessly transmitted from the field to the laboratory," Dr. Staab says.
The FBI plans on field testing the device with its Hazardous Response Unit early next year.
Click here to Go Inside This Science or contact:
Torsten Staab, Ph.D.
Los Alamos National Laboratory
Los Alamos, New Mexico
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