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Luminescent methods for high explosives identification


Investigations on Possibilities of Using of Luminescent Methods to Identify Explosives

Tech Area / Field

  • PHY-SSP/Solid State Physics/Physics
  • MAT-EXP/Explosives/Materials

3 Approved without Funding

Registration date

Leading Institute
Kemerovo State University, Russia, Kemerovo reg., Kemerovo

Supporting institutes

  • VNIITF, Russia, Chelyabinsk reg., Snezhinsk


  • National Science Foundation, USA, VA, Arlington\nUniversity of Illinois At Urbana-Champaign / Department of Physics, USA, IL, Urbana\nUniversity of Illinois At Urbana-Champaign / Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering, USA, IL, Urbana\n[Individual specialist]

Project summary

The current fight against international terrorism requires new methods to detect and identify high explosives [1–5]. Of particular urgency are the development of methods to identify specific batches of high explosives, including their place of manufacture, storage, transportation, and possible handling by criminals.

A number of traditional methods for identifying high explosives are now available [6]. Gas chromatography and thin-layer chromatography are the most popular methods.

Earlier work employing luminescent methods to identify and characterize non-explosive compounds [7, 8] including that of the authors of the proposed project [9], indicates that such luminescent signatures offer very high and possibly unique promise if brought to bear on the problem of identifying high explosives.

Unfortunately, applying luminescent methods developed for non-explosive substances to explosive compounds is impossible because of the different characteristics of the materials. This problem requires answers based on fundamental science as well as the development of adaptations in method [10-12].

Thus, the objective of this proposal is to determine specific luminescent methods that offer advantages for the identification of high explosives, including identifying a specific manufacturer, batch, or theft.

To achieve this objective, we will undertake the following tasks:

· Investigation of brisant high-explosive luminescence to determine differences in luminescent characteristics caused by variations in components and manufacturing practices.

· Investigation of the feasibility of introducing luminescent admixtures (activators) and their effects on high-explosive luminescence.

· Investigation of luminescence characteristics of high explosives containing specific luminaphores (hence termed “luminescent markers”).

· Investigation of the luminescence of specific detonation products, explosive compounds, and “marked” high explosives.

New knowledge obtained during this project will serve as the basis for developing effective luminescent methods to identify the source of high explosives and thus contribute to international counterterrorism efforts. It is also important to note that the principal investigator will work with two commercial companies, SIF “LJUMEX” in St. Petersburg, and “Izsica” Ltd., in Kemerovo, to develop a custom-designed photolumniscent spectrometer (“LJUMEX”) and thermal activation luminescent spectrometer (“Izsica”), which will be employed in the proposed project, thus contributing to the development of the Russian economy by transferring technology to the private sector.

The participating organizations, Kemerovo State University (KemSU) and the Russian Federal Nuclear Center–Institute of Technical Physics (RFNC-VNIITF), are currently engaged in the following activities related to the topic of this proposal: investigation of pre-explosive luminescence in high explosives at pulse initiation and radiation-induced luminescence in high explosives (supported by ISTC Project #2180) [13-16]. It should be noted that the proposed project will utilize existing specialized equipment acquired by both KemSU and RFNC-VNIITF for Project #2180, thus effectively leveraging ISTC’s investment in this project. This equipment includes a pulsed accelerator, streak chambers, specialized oscilloscopes, and polychromators.

The experience of project participants makes them particularly well-qualified to carry out the proposed plan of work. The KemSU team has extensive experience in luminescence studies [9]; the RFNC-VNIITF participants have great expertise in high-explosive applications. Furthermore, the proposed project will build on an established partnership between the two groups on the safety of high explosives (ISTC Project #2180, started on 03.01.02).

This proposal relates to category of applied investigation.

Anticipated results:

· A methodology will be developed to utilize luminescent signatures to identify specific high-explosive compounds.

· The potential of this method to discriminate exact sources of specific batches of high explosives will be determined.

· The potential for using luminescent markers to identify high explosives will be determined.

· The potential for using luminescent methods to identify specific high explosives from detonation products will be determined.

The anticipated results are expected to be of use to forensic scientists involved in the identification of high explosives used in crimes. In the long term, a complete set of luminescent methods of different complexity may be created to aid in international counterterrorism.

This proposal particularly meets the following ISTC institutional goals:

· Employees of RFNC-VNIITF formerly engaged in the design and development of weapons of mass destruction will redirect their knowledge and experience to civilian applications, viz. the development of technical methods useful in national and international counterterrorism efforts.

· The participation of US scientists in the project as collaborators will promote integration of the project participants into the international scientific community.

· Results of the project will contribute to the fight against international terrorism.

· New methods will be developed to address the national problem of theft and criminal use of high explosives.

· The proposed collaboration between the principal investigator and commercial firms in St. Petersburg (“LJUMEX”) and Kemerovo (“Izsica”) to custom design and manufacture specialized equipment for this project will assist in the development of the Russian economy and transfer of technology to the private sector. Letters of intent to collaborate in these research and development activities by these firms are included in Appendix 1,2.

The scope of project activities is 10 947 man-days, which is determined by the amount of work needed to complete project tasks.

Proposed role of foreign collaborators are consultations at the preliminary stage of the project; information exchange on theoretical and experimental investigations relevant to the proposed work; constructive criticism of project reports; technical monitoring of project activities; and participation in joint visits and workshops.

The originality of the technical approach and the project methodology lies in the application of unique luminescent signatures to the problem of identifying specific batches of high explosives, including determining different methods of incorporating luminescent admixtures and luminescent markers, even after the production of high-explosive compounds.

The on-going plan of work will be evolutionary, depending on the results of initial testing of materials and methods. Progress will be monitored continually and adjustments will be made as the work proceeds, such that the most promising materials and methods are identified and refined.

Specific tasks will be distributed among project participants to promote efficient work and effective application of their specialized scientific and technical expertise. Initial design and development of experimental apparatus and methods, including preliminary tests using small amounts of synthesized high-explosive compounds, will be done at KemSU. Final testing and refinement of techniques on identical equipment using common industrial-grade high explosives will be conducted in RFNC-VNIITF, which has unique facilities for such testing. The project manager will be responsible for coordination of efforts between KemSU and RFNC-VNIITF.


The International Science and Technology Center (ISTC) is an intergovernmental organization connecting scientists from Kazakhstan, Armenia, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Georgia with their peers and research organizations in the EU, Japan, Republic of Korea, Norway and the United States.


ISTC facilitates international science projects and assists the global scientific and business community to source and engage with CIS and Georgian institutes that develop or possess an excellence of scientific know-how.

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