The New Challenges of Chemical and Biological Sensing
National Science Foundation Workshop
January 9-10, 2002
The challenges of chemical and biological weapons detection are only too evident in the recent bioterrorism following the Sept. 11 attacks.
It is essential to be able to accurately identify and measure in real time a wide range of chemical and biological agents, at levels much lower than toxic, in vapor and on
surfaces, preferably from a distant position. In addition, the ability to predict the dispersal of chemical and biological harmful agents in the environment following an
attack is required. The National Science Foundation is interested in the basic, long-term research questions underlying these goals.
At present, detection of such agents is accomplished using battlefield instruments based on techniques such as ion mobility spectrometry, gas chromatography/mass
spectrometry, blackbody IR, and surface acoustic wave sensors. Remote (standoff) detectors such as light-detection-and-ranging (LIDAR) systems are still in development.
Biological agents are detected utilizing “wet-chemistry” antibody kits, UV-induced fluorescence and chromatography. The instruments are less than ideal in that they are
sometimes bulky, expensive, and require consumables; they are time-consuming to set up, and may unnecessarily expose technicians to the agents.
For example, for biological weapons, swabs of affected areas are needed, since it is now difficult to detect such agents remotely. For civilian security, convenience,
reliability and cost such as that associated with “smoke detectors” is desired.
The goal of this workshop was to exchange information between chemical and biological terrorism experts and scientists involved in sensor development to help direct work
1. New and more sensitive detection procedures of chemical and biological agents, targeting less known and more virulent versions.
2. Improved and more reliable protocols, resulting in higher sensitivity, fewer false alarms, wireless operation, as well as multifunction, e.g. chemical and biological agents simultaneously detected.
Antidotes, drugs, vaccines, skin and inhalation protectants, and decontamination are also identified as needs with regard to readiness for chemical and biological terrorism,
but were outside the scope of this workshop.
Some of the particular challenges the workshop addressed include:
1. Unattended and automated bioassays
2. Gas microsensors
3. Information electronics, especially for microassays
4. Chemical and biological sensing needs for closed spaces
5. Design of new information materials
6. Information arrays and data processing
7. Trace analysis and arrays
As an outcome of this workshop, a brief was produced that will assist researchers as they decide whether and how their research might be applied or adapted to
impact this area.