How is homeland security related to HPLC and GC?
Think about this scenario: You need to make sure that there are no explosives in the suitcase.
How do we find an explosive?
Gas Chromatography to Detect Bombs
Well, we look for a chemical signature. We try to ‘smell’ it because all volatile compounds out there give off a chemical signature. If we look at that signature we may be able to determine what it is. If we observe a signature we can determine if it is there or not.
I spent a couple of years of my life (back in the early days) developing bomb detectors.
It is a fascinating field because of this concept of – let’s find a trace chemical that we know is related to something else like an explosive or material used in the production of an explosive.
We have also done a lot of work with the ‘demilitarization of chemical weapons’.
Here in the United States back during the Cold War we manufactured a lot of chemical weapons. We have never used any of them – as far as I know. And after storing them for decades we are starting to think about getting rid of them.
This stuff is really nasty. One microdrop touches your skin and you die. So we want to make sure that these materials are disposed of properly, and that it doesn’t leak out during storage.
So there is an entire industry out there that we have helped with this important work – over one hundred – by developing applications looking for chemical warfare agents. Disposing of them and getting rid of them through incineration and other means.
Gas Chromatography for Fenceline Monitoring
We can also use this technology to do fencepost or fenceline monitoring.
We can tell if a ship has come into a canal that might contain chemical weapons. How is that done? Again chromatography is the ideal tool for trace analysis.
So we look for trace amounts of certain analytes. When we find them, we know that there may be a problem and it is time to get someone involved.