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Ultrahigh-speed chromatography and virtual chemical sensors for detecting explosives and chemical warfare agents

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2 Author(s)
Staples, E.J. ; Electron. Sensor Technol., Newbury Park, CA, USA ; Viswanathan, S.

Chromatographic separation of organic compounds is a well-known method of producing time-resolved chemical spectra or chromatograms. Whereas conventional chromatography using 10-100-m columns is slow, often requiring minutes to hours, ultrahigh-speed chromatography with short resistively heated metal columns requires only seconds. The performance of an ultrahigh-speed gas chromatograph using a surface acoustic wave (SAW) resonator to measure the mass of eluted chemical compounds is described. Closed-loop temperature programming of a resistively heated 1-m capillary column at rates as high as 20°C/s produces near real-time, 10-s chromatograms with chemical spectra peak widths measured in milliseconds. Eluted chemicals are physically adsorbed on an uncoated SAW resonator and frequency deviation versus time produces an eluted mass versus time chromatogram. The derivative of frequency versus time produces a mass/unit time chromatogram of column flux, which is used to measure the retention times of eluted compounds. This paper describes the instrument and process where independent database of chemical spectra are produced by indexing the retention time of specific target chemicals (e.g., explosives and chemical warfare agents) to the retention times of n-alkane standards. It is also shown that assigning time windows centered about specific indices can be used to create arrays of nonoverlapping virtual sensors for specific compounds. Repeated high-speed chromatographic measurements enable virtual sensor readings to be updated in near real time. This work clearly proves that arrays of virtual chemical sensors specific to explosive and chemical warfare agents can detect part per trillion levels of these compounds with high probability of detection and low probability of false alarm.

Published in:

Sensors Journal, IEEE  (Volume:5 ,  Issue: 4 )