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Detect Explosives with a Strip of Paper? This Edmonton Company is Disrupting the Market with its Groundbreaking Technology
Paper-thin strip being developed by Applied Quantum Materials Inc. and being tested by the RCMP, is poised to revolutionize law enforcement, travel, food and health industries
It looks like a simple slip of paper, but its capabilities are set to explode the market for detection technologies.
A disposable test strip being developed by Edmonton-based Applied Quantum Materials Inc. (AQM) detects trace quantities of chemicals — including those used in explosive devices — in an instant. Under a UV flashlight or lamp, a glowing strip becomes dark when trace amounts are present.
The strip, which is poised to revolutionize how law enforcement agencies and security professionals look for explosives, was invented by Mitacs researcher Dr. Christina Gonzalez (right) in collaboration with her PhD advisor, Professor Jonathan Veinot of the University of Alberta Chemistry Department. Dr. Gonzalez’ collaboration with AQM to commercialize the technology is supported by Mitacs, a not-for-profit organization that connects industry with postsecondary researchers to solve business challenges.
“Currently, technologies used at airports and by law enforcement officials require costly machines the size of a laser printer that take 10 seconds or longer to give a result,” explained AQM CEO and Co-founder Dr. David Antoniuk. “Our strips can be carried in a pocket, require no power or maintenance and give a response instantly. This technology can be applied easily and virtually anywhere there’s a need for detection,” he added.
The technology is not only faster and more convenient than existing methods, it is also much less expensive to implement, he said. It works by using silicon quantum dots — tiny semiconductor particles thousands of times smaller than the width of a human hair — embedded into paper. Where other companies use quantum dots formed from toxic and/or scarce heavy metals such as cadmium, lead or indium, the silicon used in AQM’s device is safe and abundant, Antoniuk said.
AQM is now working with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and other Canadian government departments to further test and validate its technology. RCMP Sergeant Greg Baird said that, in addition to replacing the traditional wand detection devices used at airports, the strips could potentially be used to swipe different areas of a crime scene or during the execution of a search warrant, for example.
“It is important to have the ability to quickly and accurately determine if explosives, homemade or commercial, were used or going to be used in the commission of an offence,” Baird said. “We see this as a portable, user-friendly and quick method of achieving that. The results are presumptive and would still require further analysis by our Explosives Laboratory.”
The RCMP is working closely with AQM to further develop the detection strips by testing their reliability in simulated real-life situations. AQM is also receiving interest from companies looking to apply the breakthrough technology in other detection areas, which can include drug detection, food safety or disease diagnosis, Antoniuk said.
“Our future plans include exploring the use of the strip to test for the presence of drugs, such as Fentanyl or cocaine,” he said, noting that the strips would indicate a positive result by changing appearance.
Gonzalez, who initially developed the idea as part of her PhD research, is now working to advance new applications. “If we can use something I’m working on to benefit society, then that’s a big driving factor for me,” she said.