Airline Explosive-Thwarting Method Discovered

UCSB Scientists Find Way to Detect PETN

Fliers may now — or in the near future — travel with somewhat more confidence. A joint effort by UCSB professors and researchers, both teams a combination of experts from the Mechanical Engineering and Chemistry departments, has resulted in an ability to detect even the smallest levels of pentaerythritol tetranitrate (PETN), the substance used in the attempted terrorist attack aboard the Northwest Airlines flight to Detroit on December 25.

The inventors, who formed SpectraFluidics Inc. at the Storke-Hollister Research Center as a means of commercializing the detection technique, are confident in the technology’s accuracy. Most likely to be implemented for use in handheld scanners and portal devices, the technology will be able to identify PETN — one of the most explosive materials in the world — in either solid or vapor form should it emanate from a passenger, luggage, or both.

Unlike other screening measures suggested in the wake of the recent terrorist attempt — such as full-body scanners, which virtually undress the passengers — the PETN detection technology will allow for both added security and passengers’ rights to privacy. It will also purportedly be less expensive for the airports to install and less time-consuming for fliers. More importantly, added SpectraFluids CEO Craig Cummings, PETN “is difficult to detect using conventional airport scanning and inspection technology.”

Because of this, plans are in the works to update existing airport scanners with the new device sometime this year.

To submit a comment on this article, email or visit our Facebook page. To submit information to a reporter, email

Be succinct, constructive, and relevant to the story. Leaving a comment means you agree to our Discussion Guidelines. We like civilized discourse. We don't like spam, lying, profanity, harassment or personal attacks.

comments powered by Disqus
event calendar sponsored by:

County Accountant Pleads Guilty to Embezzling $2 Million

Forensic audit discovers almost 300 false invoices filed over nine years.

Los Padres ForestWatch Opposes Logging in Condor Country

Timber companies target 2,800 acres of trees near Mt. Pinos along the Tecuya Ridge.

Lawmakers Move to Impede Offshore Oil Leases

A pair of bills aim to counter the federal government's new push for production.

More Money Available for Santa Barbara County’s Disaster Victims

The United Way is giving to Santa Barbara nonprofits and offering direct cash grants.

Santa Barbara’s Commuter Train Brings Solid Ridership and Timely Service

The first two weeks of service have seen a daily average topping 180 riders.