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Curry powder molecule 'is cheap sensor for explosives' Print

By Jason Palmer Science and technology reporter, BBC News, Dallas
The main chemical in the curry spice turmeric could be the basis for cheap explosives detectors, say researchers.

The curcumin molecule is already well-known in medicine for its anti-cancer and anti-oxidant properties.

Now, research presented at the American Physical Society meeting suggests it could replace more complex solutions to spot explosives like TNT.

As it gathers molecules of explosive material in air, changes in its light-emitting properties can be measured.

This "fluorescence spectroscopy" is already employed in a wide array of sensing and analysis techniques.

Now, Abhishek Kumar, of the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, and his colleagues have happened across a means of co-opting the curry ingredient's fluorescence properties for explosive detection.

"If you have a gram of TNT... and you sample a billion air molecules from anywhere in the room, you'll find four or five molecules of TNT - that's the reason they're so hard to detect," he told the conference.

"And, the US State Department estimates there are about 60 to 70 million land mines throughout the world; we need a very portable, field-deployable sensing device which is cheap, very sensitive, and easy to handle."

The team, which is funded in part by the US government, is already in discussions with a company to develop the technique into a portable detector device.

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