Bomb swab: Can trace explosive particle sampling and detection be improved?

Danny Fisher, Raya Zach, Yossef Matana, Paz Elia, Shiran Shustack, Yarden Sharon, Yehuda Zeiri

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


The marked increase in international terror in recent years requires the development of highly efficient methods to detect trace amounts of explosives at airports, border crossings and check points. The preferred analytical method worldwide is the ion mobility spectrometry (IMS) that is capable of detecting most explosives at the nano-gram level. Sample collection for the IMS analysis is based on swabbing of a passenger's belongings to collect possible explosive residues. The present study examines a wide range of issues related to swab-based particle collection and analysis, in the hope of gaining deeper understanding into this technique that will serve to improve the detection process. The adhesion of explosive particles to three typical materials, plastic, metal and glass, were measured using atomic force microscopy (AFM). We found that a strong contribution of capillary forces to adhesion on glass and metal surfaces renders these substrates more promising materials upon which to find and collect explosive residues. The adhesion of explosives to different swipe materials was also examined. Here we found that Muslin, Nomex® and polyamide membrane surfaces are the most promising materials for use as swipes. Subsequently, the efficiency of multiple swipe use – for collecting explosive residues from a glass surface using Muslin, Nomex® and Teflon™ swipes – was examined. The study suggests that swipes used in about 5–10 “sampling and analysis cycles” have higher efficiency as compared to new unused swipes. The reason for this behavior was found to be related to the increased roughness of the swipe surface following a few swab measurements. Lastly, GC-MS analysis was employed to examine the nature of contaminants collected by the three types of swipe. The relative amounts of different contaminants are reported. The existence and interference of these contaminants have to be considered in relation to the detection efficiency of the various explosives by the IMS.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)92-99
Number of pages8
StatePublished - 1 Nov 2017


  • AFM
  • Adhesion force
  • IMS
  • Particle sampling
  • Swipe material
  • Trace explosives detection

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Analytical Chemistry


Dive into the research topics of 'Bomb swab: Can trace explosive particle sampling and detection be improved?'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this