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Sensing Trace Amounts of Nitro-Aromatic Explosives using Nanowire-Nanocluster Hybrids



Geetha G. Aluri, Abhishek Motayed, Albert Davydov, Vladimir P. Oleshko, Kristine A. Bertness, Norman A. Sanford


The threat of terrorism and the need for homeland security calls for advanced technologies to detect the concealed explosives safely and efficiently. We demonstrated highly sensitive and selective detection of traces of nitro-aromatic explosive compounds by functionalizing gallium nitride (GaN) nanowires with titanium dioxide (TiO_(2)) nanoclusters to address this issue. The hybrid sensor devices were developed by fabricating two-terminal devices using individual GaN nanowires (NWs) followed by the deposition of TiO_(2) nanoclusters (NCs) using sputtering technique. The GaN/TiO_(2) NWNC hybrids showed remarkable selectivity to benzene and related aromatic compounds, with no measureable response for other analytes. The hybrid sensors work at room temperature and are photomodulated, i.e., they responded to analytes only in the presence of ultra violet (UV) light. This paper presents the sensing characteristics of GaN/TiO_(2) nanowire-nanocluster hybrids towards the different aromatic and nitroaromatic compounds at room temperature. The GaN/TiO-(2) hybrids were able to detect trinitrotoluene (TNT) concentrations as low as 500 pmol/mol (ppt) in air and dinitrobenzene (DNB) concentrations as low as 10 nmol/mol (ppb) in air in approximately 30 s. The noted sensitivity range of the devices for TNT was from 8 ppm down to as low as 500 ppt. The detection limit of Dinitrotoluene, nitrobenzene, nitrotoluene, toluene and benzene in air is 100 ppb with a response time of ~ 75 s. It is observed that the sensitivity of the devices increase with the increase in the number of nitro groups attached to the aromatic compound. The devices show very sensitive and selective response to TNT when compared to interfering compounds like toluene. Integration of this nano-scale technology could lead to tiny, highly sensitive, selective, low-power and smart explosive detectors that could be manufactured cheaply in large numbers.
Proceedings of SPIE


explosives, nanowire-nanocluster, nitro-aromatics, sensors


Aluri, G. , Motayed, A. , Davydov, A. , Oleshko, V. , Bertness, K. and Sanford, N. (2012), Sensing Trace Amounts of Nitro-Aromatic Explosives using Nanowire-Nanocluster Hybrids, Proceedings of SPIE, [online], (Accessed May 25, 2024)


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Created August 1, 2012, Updated November 10, 2018