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Photothermal Infrared Imaging Spectroscopy (PT-IRIS) for Stand-off Trace Detection

The US Naval Research Laboratory has developed a system to detect trace amounts of explosives, drugs, and other chemicals from a stand-off distance.

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The Technology: 

PT-IRIS uses commercially available eye-safe infrared quantum cascade lasers (QCL) and thermal imaging to detect target chemicals. The laser is tuned to wavelengths that are selectively absorbed by the target analyte. The small increase in the thermal emission of the target is measured by the thermal imaging system.

The detection system is portable and sensitive enough to detect traces of explosive materials as small as a single grain (less than one nanogram), and is effective at distances out to tens of meters indoors and outdoors. The complete detection protocol can be performed in the sub-second time domain and utilizes compact eye-safe lasers. The technology has been tested against a variety of analytes, with extensive testing against explosives such as TNT and RDX at up to 30 meters.

Detection of trace chemicals, including explosives, is a vital goal for a variety of law enforcement, military, and homeland security applications. Current trace detection systems typically involve swabbing methods that require direct contact with the surface. Such methodologies are time-consuming. PT-IRIS enables a fast, effective eye-safe means of detecting trace amounts of chemicals of interest at stand-off distances utilizing compact, commercially-available technologies.

  • Sensitive and Selective: Able to detect single grains of trace chemicals and selective enough to differentiate between target materials. Especially useful for the detection of low vapor pressure materials including various explosives and drugs such as cocaine.
  • Fast and Portable: Detection completed in less than a second from a stand-off distance using compact, field portable equipment. Invisible wavelengths also enable stealth operations.
  • Flexible COTS Components: PT-IRIS systems can be built to a variety of cost and performance specifications using a wide range of commercially available lasers and thermal imagers.
The Opportunity: 
  • Intellectual Property available for license:
  • Additional information available under a non-disclosure agreement
  • Potential for R&D collaboration with US Naval Research Laboratory inventors