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Mobile Device for Detection of Narcotics


Mobile Device for Detection of Narcotics, Including Hidden and Sealed Ones

Tech Area / Field

  • INS-DET/Detection Devices/Instrumentation
  • PHY-ANU/Atomic and Nuclear Physics/Physics

3 Approved without Funding

Registration date

Leading Institute
Khlopin Radium Institute, Russia, St Petersburg


  • University of Jyväskylä, Finland, Jyväskylä\nMassachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) / Nuclear Engineering Department, USA, MA, Cambridge\nUniversity of Padova / Department of Physics, Italy, Padova\nWestern Kentucky University / Applied Physics Institute, USA, OH, Bowling Green

Project summary

Goal of the Project.

The main goal of the Project is to create a functional prototype of a mobile device for detection of narcotics, including sealed ones.

Current status of the field.

This Project was instigated by a recent sharp rise of shipment trough Russian territory of narcotics from South-East Asia destined for Europe and America. Narcotics are usually enclosed in sealed packages that prevent the spread of vapours, and/or are masked with other strong smells. This leads to low efficiency for detection even when specially trained dogs or electronic methods of vapor analysis are used. The above methods also require long and expensive training (dogs) or require special measures to restore initial sensitivity of the device after a series of measurements (electronic methods). At present, there is a clear need in an inexpensive mobile device capable of detecting small amounts (>100 grams) of sealed narcotics within several minutes.

The existing nuclear methods (nuclear magnetic resonance, irradiation with neutrons from neutron generators or spontaneous sources) allow one to detected sealed narcotics. However, in the existing form these methods:

a) require very strong magnetic field (NMR) and thus lead to a very heavy device;

b) require high qualification of the personnel and developed infrastructure (neutron generators) which are unavailable in weakly developed regions;

c) have low effect to background ratio (spontaneous neutron sources) and thus too long identification time even for large samples and high neutron fluxes.

Contribution of the Project to the selected field.

We propose to use for detecting sealed narcotics a combination of two methods: detection of secondary gamma-quanta with subsequent determination of the elementary composition of the studied sample, and detection of electromagnetic radiation in UHF range. Radium Institute has a considerable experience in such methods, including their application to detection of explosives, which will allow us to modify this technique and to apply it to the detection of sealed narcotics.

Technical approach and methodology.

The following methods will be used:

Irradiation of target objects with neutrons from isotopic sources with detection of secondary gamma-quanta from inelastic scattering of neutrons (n,n’g) in coincidence with accompanying particles, and gamma-quanta from neutron capture reactions (n,g) in anti-coincidence with accompanying particles.

Detection of gamma-quanta in coincidence with accompanying particles allows one to significantly (more than by an order of magnitude) reduce the background component in gamma-spectra, to improve effect-to-background ration and thus to reduce time needed for narcotics detection by an order of magnitude. From measured intensities of related gamma-lines and known cross-sections of corresponding (n.n’g) and (n,g) reaction one can deduce ratio between concentrations of carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, and hydrogen in the studied object. Also, analysis of the general shape of the measured spectrum is possible, with estimation of its “similarity” to pre-measured spectra of gamma-quanta from known narcotic substances.

Almost all narcotics are known to have a large ratio of carbon to oxygen (C/O > 3) and even higher ration of carbon to nitrogen (C/N). For example, for cocaine C/O=3.2, and C/N=15.

We propose to use the following neutron sources:

· Spontaneously fissioning isotope 252-californium placed in an ionization chamber that registered fission fragments that accompany neutron emission;
· Combined Po-Be neutron source with controlled neutron flux and with detection of the accompanying gamma-rays. This source would have variable neutron flux (in the “switched-off” mode the neutron flux will be ~10000 times weaker than in the “switched-on” mode), which would make this source safe for the personnel.
1. Analysis of the detailed structure of absorption/reflection spectrum of electromagnetic waves in the UHF range in narcotic substances.

Unlike nuclear methods, this method is sensitive to molecular structure of the studied sample. Reasonable penetration depth of EM waves in UHF range allows one to detect sealed and hidden objects. The method requires only few seconds for the identification procedure.

Amount of work.

The duration of the Project will be 3 years.

Within the first two years the following work will be done:

1. Modernization of the existing neutron source based on 252Cf placed inside an ionization chamber for detection of the accompanying fission fragments.

2. Development of the isotopic neutron source with controlled neutron flux on the basis of the Po-Be source with system for detection of accompanying gamma-rays.
3. Development on the basis of the above neutron sources of a device for detection of sealed narcotics.
4. Development of mathematical algorithms for narcotics detection in presence of other consumer goods by employing specific ratios of carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, and hydrogen concentrations, as well as by employing analysis of the general shape of gamma-spectrum in relation to spectra from known narcotic substances.
5. Building a device for narcotic detection on the basis of characteristic properties of absorption and reflection spectra of electromagnetic waves in UHF range.
6. The third year – building a functional prototype of a mobile device for detection of sealed narcotics.
Competence of participants.
Radium institute has a considerable experience in building compact isotopic neutron sources, including those with original methods for accompanying particle detection. Also, we have experience in using these sources and of the electromagnetic waves for the purposes of explosives detection, including work in the framework of the ISTC Project #1050.
Expected results and their application.
As a result of the Project a prototype of a mobile device for detection of hermetically packed narcotics (heroin, cocaine, LSD, etc.) will be built; the device will use a combination of two methods: detection of secondary gamma-rays in coincidence with accompanying particles, and detection of reflected waves in UHF range.
Applications of the device will include detection of narcotic substances (NS) in luggage, containers (including metal coatings), cars, trains, ships, airplanes, etc.
The projected most important characteristics of the device:
1. Detection of 100 g of NS (heroin, cocaine, LSD, morphine, etc.) within 10 minutes with probability >96% and with probability of false alarms <1%.
2. Time needed to switch on the device and start a new series of measurements~ 5 minutes; the specialized software will allow for “single button” operation that would not require special knowledge from personnel.
3. Mass of the device <35 kg, dimensions: 40cm 30cm 40cm.
4. Ability to work in the temperature range –25oC - +50oC, autonomous battery power supply (8 hours of uninterrupted work without recharging the batteries).
5. Compliance with the existing radiation protection rules. The device will not affect the personnel, goods, and vehicles.
6. Low operation cost (power consumption ~ 10 watts), estimated operation time without changing the neutron source: up to 5 years, depending on the source type.
7. Projected cost of the commercial version of the device - $35000.
As a result of work in the framework of the Project the following additional results will be obtained, which would be of interest for organizations that deal with the problem of non-destructive analysis:
8. The timed neutron source based on 252Cf isotope will be created, complete with the required electronics. Such source would allow one to significantly reduce the time needed for identification, and also reduce the radiation doses for the personnel.
9. Spontaneous neutron source with controlled neutron flux will be created on the basis of combination of Po and Be isotopes. A system for detection of gamma-rays that accompany neutron emission from this source will be developed. This source would combine the advantages of isotopic sources (simplicity, reliability) with those of neutron generators (possibility to switch off, relatively high energy of neutrons) that would make it a good choice for the tasks where high fluxes of fast neutrons are required.
We are planning to carry out the work in cooperation with interested parties from both Russia and other countries-members of ISTC. In particular, we are planning to cooperate with the Customs services (see the letter from Head of the North-West Customs Directorate (NWCD) of Russian Federation in the Supporting Information section) in organizing the measurement with real samples of NS, and in testing the prototype of the device and its commercialisation.Meeting the ISTC goals.
The Project will provide alternative employment and long-term perspectives for scientists who were previously engaged in weapon production, and will serve the aim of preventing narcotics smuggling worldwide.
Role of foreign collaborators.
We hope to benefit from the experience of our foreign colleagues in planning the work, analysis of the experimental results, and in possible joint scientific and commercial use of results.
We are planning the following forms of collaboration: exchange of information, independent verification of results, consultation on development of system for accompanying particles detection, joint use of equipment, information support of the work.


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