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New Device Sniffs Out Black Powder Explosives

Soulskill posted about a year ago | from the fighting-7th-century-technology dept.

Science 133

sciencehabit writes "The Boston marathon bombers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev reportedly purchased several pounds of black powder explosive before the bombing. Used in fireworks and bullets, the explosive substance is both deadly and widely available. It's also very hard to detect. Now, researchers have modified one bomb-sniffing device to accurately spot very small amounts of black powder, an advance that could make us safer from future attacks. What has prevented detection of black powder by IMS in the past, however, is that sulfur and oxygen -- which composes 20% of air—hit the detector at almost the same time. A strong oxygen signal can thus mask a small amount of sulfur, like what a bombmaker's dirty fingers might leave on a luggage strap. A group led by chemist Haiyang Li at the Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics in China modified an IMS to eliminate the oxygen signal. 'We have tested the sensitivity of TR-IMS, and its limit of detection of black powder can reach as low as 0.05 nanograms,' Li says."

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or... (2)

gandhi_2 (1108023) | about a year ago | (#43623997)

...detects the presence of musketeers!

Re:or... (4, Informative)

icebike (68054) | about a year ago | (#43624063)

And tiny firecrackers, and the smoke there-of.
Legal uses of black powder would easily swamp and overwhelm this detector. So in order to prevent false positives,
expect a major crackdown on black powder. Vaseline too.

Further, its never been hard to train dogs to sniff out black powder, so having a machine that does this is probably not much cheaper.

Re:or... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43624173)

Won't work where I live, my town has a sulfur refining plant. Or any place with any significant amount of coal production or other coal-related industry.

Re:or... (1)

dr2chase (653338) | about a year ago | (#43625917)

Or an orange grove -- they use oil-sulfur sprays on those, the whole thing has a faint whiff of SO2. Grew up in the middle of one, and years later someone opened up a bag of gardening sulfur near me, and "HOME!" hit me in the nose.

Re:or... (2)

spire3661 (1038968) | about a year ago | (#43625069)

Legal uses of radiation therapy arent stopping them from harassing innocent citizens with over zealous radiation detection.

Re:or... (1)

JTsyo (1338447) | about a year ago | (#43625721)

How much sulfur is in a fart?

Re:or... (1)

techsimian (2555762) | about a year ago | (#43625807)

None? CH4 != S

Re:or... (1)

50000BTU_barbecue (588132) | about a year ago | (#43626159)

CH4 doesn't smell, H2S on the other hand...

Re:or... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43626315)

Seed the target area weeks in advance with small quantities.

WE ARE NOW SECURED (0, Flamebait)

Jeremiah Cornelius (137) | about a year ago | (#43624009)

From time-travelling Anarchists, tossing bombs from the 1860's!

Re:WE ARE NOW SECURED (1)

phantomfive (622387) | about a year ago | (#43624363)

Time-traveling Anarchists, or, say, people who drop pressure-cooker bombs made from fireworks at marathon finish lines?

Re:WE ARE NOW SECURED (1)

Hoi Polloi (522990) | about a year ago | (#43624657)

...and people returning from fireworks displays or setting off firecrackers, returning from hunting trips, anyone from Kentucky...

Re:WE ARE NOW SECURED (1)

turp182 (1020263) | about a year ago | (#43625707)

Remember, remember, the 5th of November. Hang on a second, that's not right, it's Cinco de Mayo!!!

Will this be set off by road flares in the trunk (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43624017)

of my car? I remember those give the drug sniffing dogs in high school fits.

NO. (1)

sycodon (149926) | about a year ago | (#43624027)

They purchased Fireworks that contained black powder.

But that won't stop the morons in Congress from trying to make black powder something that requires a background check.

And folks like these two chuck-heads will continue to buy fireworks and be completely unaffected by the background checks.

Re:NO. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43624185)

brilliant observation, so what you're saying is that, because people will buy fireworks and background checks won't/can't stop them, they should just be able to freely by 50 gallon drums of the stuff.

Re:NO. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43624269)

I'm pretty sure you're the only one that's mentioned anything remotely like that.

Re:NO. (1)

spire3661 (1038968) | about a year ago | (#43625075)

Tell that to the model rocketeers after 9/11........

Black Powder comes in 50 gallon drums now?! (1)

Safety Cap (253500) | about a year ago | (#43624349)

Get Jerry on the line!

Tell him to dump my entire warehouse--300 hogsheads--of the powder in the river and go out and buy replacement drums right away!

(rubs hands together)

I'm going to make...(extreme closeup)...a killing!

Re:NO. (1)

Molochi (555357) | about a year ago | (#43625189)

Buying large quantities of black powder is already regulated.

Re:NO. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43626389)

So you're saying that our only two options are "do something ineffectual" or "do nothing"? Why can't we, I don't know, try and find a solution that actually fucking works?

Re:NO. (1)

sycodon (149926) | about a year ago | (#43626557)

"do something ineffectual" = "do nothing"

You just feel better about it.

Re:NO. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43624813)

So you think checking someone's background is a "moron" move? You ok with felons getting guns? Mentally ill?

Re:NO. (1)

sycodon (149926) | about a year ago | (#43626565)

No, your comment is a moron move.

How about we require a background check before you can buy a fucking SUV to escape in?

Or, before you can post stupid shit on Slashdot.

Black Powder? (4, Informative)

Molochi (555357) | about a year ago | (#43625131)

Just a side note because it's making me nerdrage :) TFA asserts "Used in fireworks and bullets, the explosive substance is both deadly and widely available." Assuming that they are actually talking about "black powder" I think this was an included invention by the writer.

Manufactured ammunition (with a very few niche and very expensive exceptions) hasn't used "black powder" for its loads for over 100 years. Modern ammo uses "smokeless" powders with a variety of chemical compositions based around nitroglycerin and 1or 2 other nitro based chemicals. These should be easily detectable with existing sniffers that are looking for nitrates. So if a day on the range was going to get me hauled in at the TSA line, well were already past that.

Pyrodex and other Black Powder substitutes are more commonly used by muzzleloader hunters and Pyrodex is "smokeless powder" based and formulated for the lower power of black powder explosions. I should also be easily detectable.

Garden variety "buy it a supermarket go-bang fireworks" use perchlorate based fuel as far as I know. I don't know how detectable it is or how chemically similar it is to black powder off the top of my head. But I'd guess it's not and would prefer it to be detectable.

On the other hand I CAN buy black powder by the 16oz can with cash. I think it would be good thing if the chemsniffers could detect it.

Re:Black Powder? (1)

techsimian (2555762) | about a year ago | (#43625843)

Bullets have never been made of black powder. The bullet is the metal tip (or ball whne they actually used black powder)

Did Anything Happen in West, Texas? (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43624041)

All I keep hearing about is knee jerk reactions to a sad but relatively trivial event in Boston.

Re:Did Anything Happen in West, Texas? (0)

femtobyte (710429) | about a year ago | (#43624137)

What could a self-regulating American --- Texan, even! --- business possibly do worse than turrists? Surely, their own self-interests would prevent them from doing anything truly stupid and dangerous; that's why we don't need government regulators breathing down our necks. Are you some sort of commie, trying to spread lies that the Free Market won't keep us perfectly safe from harm?

Re:Did Anything Happen in West, Texas? (2)

gmanterry (1141623) | about a year ago | (#43624671)

All I keep hearing about is knee jerk reactions to a sad but relatively trivial event in Boston.

That has become the standard government reaction to anything that happens... ban it. A fan, a five pound bag of flour and a match can blow a house up. As soon as some idiot does it you will need a Federal License to buy a pound of flour.

I use sulfur as a fungicid (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43624061)

I use elemental sulfur, the same one used to make black-powder to combat fungus in my garden. Will I get raped next time I visit the stat ?

Re:I use sulfur as a fungicid (1)

Molochi (555357) | about a year ago | (#43625219)

Maybe. But the detectors already work against the stuff in "bullets" (because black powder isn't actually used in ammo) and fertilizer. So you're already screwed.

Other forms of detection (2)

j-stroy (640921) | about a year ago | (#43624067)

There is an old design for a flint powered detector similar to a more modern piezo-electric black powder detector.

Lets not forget the BATF detector which supplies its own sample and has a 100% detection rate.

Thank god there are no other kinds of explosives (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43624071)

and that black powder is used solely for nefarious purposes.

False Positives (2, Funny)

Culture20 (968837) | about a year ago | (#43624073)

Get ready for the massive amounts of false positives. You went to the firing range last Tuesday? Terrorist Scum!

Re:False Positives (2, Insightful)

He Who Has No Name (768306) | about a year ago | (#43624103)

If it keeps ONE CHILD SAFE, we have to throw out all your civil liberties.

Re:False Positives (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43624307)

If it keeps ONE CHILD SAFE, we have to throw out all your civil liberties.

And all the fertilizer for my garden.

And that whole "Coal Industry"? Ya that's gonna have to get shit-canned as well.

Re:False Positives (2, Interesting)

girlintraining (1395911) | about a year ago | (#43624225)

Get ready for the massive amounts of false positives. You went to the firing range last Tuesday? Terrorist Scum!

It detects sulphur. Anyone who has used matches recently will be tagged as well.

Re:False Positives (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43624381)

It detects sulphur. Anyone who has used matches recently will be tagged as well.

Judging by what I ate today, if I farted on that sensor it would probably explode.

http://www.ehow.com/about_5549939_foods-containing-sulfur.html [ehow.com]

Re:False Positives (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43624739)

Modern firearms do not use black powder... but the chemical sniffers detects that already. (Why do they keep calling them bomb sniffers?)

Re:False Positives (1)

Molochi (555357) | about a year ago | (#43625245)

Why are you using black powder? It's messy and corrosive in your 150 year old gun. Use pyrodex or a modern gun that never used black powder instead and they'll only pull you aside if their chem sniffer can detect nitrates. Oh Wait...

Wow! (3, Insightful)

bogidu (300637) | about a year ago | (#43624093)

Bullets are made out of black powder? All the ones I've used have been made out of lead or copper. How do those black powder bullets hold together?

Reporters, please learn the difference between:

Ammunition and bullets
Magazines and clips
Automatic vs Semi-Automatic

etc, when talking about firearms.

Re:Wow! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43624175)

hey skippy -- lots of stuff for you to take in here, but try to understand.

the article isn't about firearms and guns at all.

it's about people making bombs -- TOTALLY different thing

did you know it's not legal to make a bomb? really!

Re:Wow! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43624233)

hey skippy -- lots of stuff for you to take in here, but try to understand.

the article isn't about firearms and guns at all.

So, we should let reporters spew absurdities and misinformation because, "Hey, this article isn't about the thing it's attempting to reference"?

I can't imagine why "news" media in the US is such shit. Oh no, I've no idea why.

Re:Wow! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43624247)

Except as it was written, it states bullets are made of black powder which they aren't. On top of that, even if we assume they meant ammunition or rounds they still aren't using black powder anymore. They are using Smokeless powder and have been doing so for many many years.

This is just another example of not getting the information correct in an attempt to get the information first.

Also, you can legally buy a binary explosive.. think tannerite (sp?). You mix the parts and now when you shoot it it goes boom. Of course I don't know if it is legally an explosive since it takes a gunshot or equiv. to make it go off.

Re:Wow! (1)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about a year ago | (#43625607)

using Smokeless powder

As long as we're being pedantic, "Smokeless powder" should be "smokeless powder" since it's a generic term, and "tannerite" should be "Tannerite" since it's a trade name. Obviously Tannerite is an explosive, since it can be made to explode, but it's a tertiary explosive like ANFO. Lastly, ammunition is a very generic term that can include artillery shells, amongst other things, so (assuming you're the OP AC) it would make a lot more sense to talk about "cartridges and bullets" rather than "ammunition and bullets".

Sheesh, any time firearms are discussed some gun-loving pedant points out, amongst other things, the difference between a magazine and a clip. That's probably the least important distinction I can think of in most such discussions.

Re:Wow! (1)

RabidReindeer (2625839) | about a year ago | (#43624687)

hey skippy -- lots of stuff for you to take in here, but try to understand.

the article isn't about firearms and guns at all.

it's about people making bombs -- TOTALLY different thing

did you know it's not legal to make a bomb? really!

Which is curious. Why is it illegal to make a bomb if we have a 2nd Amendment right to "keep and bear Arms?" I think that bombs count at armaments, and while I've seen a lot of interpretations made of the 2nd Amendment - many of which I don't buy into - if you're going to go with the one that keeping personal armaments is permitted for personal defense of liberty against a tyrannical government, why should said armaments be limited to things you can point and shoot? There's nothing in the Constitution that draws a line there that I know of.

On a practical level, I'm fine with outlawing bombs, considering the havoc people routinely wreak with other weapons, but on a logical level, I can't make sense of it.

Re:Wow! (1)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | about a year ago | (#43625019)

Why is it illegal to make a bomb if we have a 2nd Amendment right to "keep and bear Arms?" I think that bombs count at armaments

"Arms" != "armaments".

Though, oddly enough, a muzzleloading cannon is legal (as long as you don't try to sell it), even though a bomb isn't.

Note also that pretty much any firecracker is a "bomb", if we get down to nitpicking...

More niggling (4, Informative)

NoImNotNineVolt (832851) | about a year ago | (#43624213)

I'd hate to come across as pedantic, but...

An ammunition cartridge is composed primarily of:
Bullet: The projectile that is ejected from the muzzle of the firearm at high speed.
Propellant: The chemical explosive that is burned to propel the bullet.
Primer: The component that chemically generates heat when struck with sufficient force, igniting the propellant.
Casing: Just what it sounds like, the part that holds everything together.

Now, to keep this from being entirely off-topic...
Modern ammunition cartridges do not contain black powder [wikipedia.org] . They contain smokeless powder [wikipedia.org] . Much like "clips" and "magazines", or "diesel" and "gasoline", these are two different things that are not interchangeable.

Re:More niggling (1)

shutdown -p now (807394) | about a year ago | (#43624421)

Since we're being pedantic, you could actually interchange black and smokeless powder in some modern cartridges for some firearms - e.g. .38 Special out of a revolver.

Re:More niggling (4, Interesting)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | about a year ago | (#43624427)

Modern ammunition cartridges do not contain black powder [wikipedia.org]. They contain smokeless powder [wikipedia.org]. Much like "clips" and "magazines", or "diesel" and "gasoline", these are two different things that are not interchangeable.

A slight quibble:

blackpowder can be loaded into any casing and will work just fine (for certain values of fine - be VERY careful about loading). Note that the .45-70 cartridge was originally blackpowder, is now smokeless powder, but is the same size cartridge it always was, so can be loaded quite safely with 70 grains of black powder instead of whatever amount of smokeless it comes out of the box with.

Note that the above quibble really only matters to the few of us who own replicas of the 1873 Springfield .45-70 cavalry carbine (7th Cavalry used them at Little Big Horn, for reference) and feel the incredible urge to foul the barrels of our carbines for a more "realistic feel"....

Re:Wow! (-1)

AK Marc (707885) | about a year ago | (#43624215)

They know, they just don't care. And why should they? 99% of people don't know or care either. So the point is clear to 100% of the population, so it is "correct" if "correct" means "gets the point across."

Re:Wow! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43624795)

Bullets are made out of black powder? All the ones I've used have been made out of lead or copper. How do those black powder bullets hold together?

Reporters, please learn the difference between:

Ammunition and bullets
Magazines and clips
Automatic vs Semi-Automatic

etc, when talking about firearms.

The jacket is made of brass, not copper but a copper alloy. Poster, please learn the difference. ;-)

One small problem... (2)

BetterSense (1398915) | about a year ago | (#43624095)

Black powder is perfectly legal.

Why should black powder residue constitute probable cause of anything, if possession and use of black powder is actually legal?

In theory, I could go shooting my historical weapons that use black powder, which is also perfectly legal, or go to a war-between-the-states reenactment, and then walk through downtown Boston. Nevermind, that would be outside the ordinary, prescripted "safe area" of human activity that "most normal people" do, and therefore suspicious and therefore probable cause. Got it.

Re:One small problem... (1)

meerling (1487879) | about a year ago | (#43624169)

You're better off using modern replacements for actual black powder, since the corrosive effects of that old sulfer charcoal saltpeter stuff is pretty nasty over time.

Re:One small problem... (4, Informative)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | about a year ago | (#43624387)

You're better off using modern replacements for actual black powder, since the corrosive effects of that old sulfer charcoal saltpeter stuff is pretty nasty over time.

Which is why cleaning your blackpowder firearms THOROUGHLY immediately after use is mandatory.

My Civil War era revolvers get disassembled and tossed into boiling water soon as I get home. For a start....

Re: One small problem... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43624411)

I've used both, and still prefer proper black powder. It is more authentic and the corrosion aspects are a non-issue if you use correct (i.e. period correct) materials and techniques.

Re:One small problem... (1)

Molochi (555357) | about a year ago | (#43625291)

Mind you those replacements use a nitro base. So you're still screwed IF this is going to happen. But it is better for your gun.

Re:One small problem... (1)

iggymanz (596061) | about a year ago | (#43626305)

eh, you can't use modern smokeless in a black powder weapon. the replacements for black powder contain black powder plus other ingredients.

Re:One small problem... (1)

iggymanz (596061) | about a year ago | (#43626193)

the modern replacements to be used in black powder weapons also contain black powder and are corrosive and caustic too. Pyrodex for example has black powder plus graphite and some other interesting things; it is less sensitive and safe than black powder but still dangerous and having many the bad characteristics. you still have to wash your gun afterwards (yes, hot soapy near-boiling water).

Re:One small problem... (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about a year ago | (#43624723)

Black powder is perfectly legal. Why should black powder residue constitute probable cause of anything, if possession and use of black powder is actually legal?

Depends on the quantity, probably. The last time I checked, black powder was rated as the highest-risk explosive in our legislature because of its sensitivity to sparks and static electricity. The residue could at least result in them asking you where you got it from, in what quantity, and if you're qualified and licensed to handle it.

Re: One small problem... (3, Insightful)

BetterSense (1398915) | about a year ago | (#43624857)

You make my point for me. You DO NOT have to "qualified and liscenced" to have black powder. You DO NOT have to tell anyone (cops included) 'where you got it' anymore than you have to tell them where you bought your sneakers. What's the point in detecting something that is perfectly legal?

It's sulphur, salpeter and charcoal.

Re: One small problem... (2)

cffrost (885375) | about a year ago | (#43625419)

What's the point in detecting something that is perfectly legal?

Much like police dogs that "alert" based of the whims of their handlers, [erowid.org] this technology will likely be useful for creating "probable cause" against anyone who's been in direct or indirect contact with some sulfur-containing materials.

So if you cut up onions before flying... (1)

John Hasler (414242) | about a year ago | (#43624097)

...Wash your hands very, very thoroughly.

And whatever you do DON"T FART while going through security.

Sulfur (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43624107)

Isn't sulfur a fairly common element in some household products? I mean, any nerd could tell you it's the active ingredient in some acne cremes...

Yay for false positives (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43624123)

This thing's going to pick up a lot of innocent gardeners who sprinkled sulfur on their plants to kill mold, or who got some fertilizer on their hands.

Well, this is odd (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43624141)

I remember a comment posted from someone shortly after the bombing saying that the bombing was going to be pinned on a young man in early 20s, and that they would find that the bombs were made out of gun powder. He said that he worked with a firm that was writing down some legislature to tax gun powder or restrict it. Strange how right he's been so far.

Get Facts straight (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43624159)

Sigh.. Black powder is not used in bullets.

A Bullets is the projectile that is fired and is normally made of lead although some have a steel core and other metals but there is no black powder in there.

Even the powder that is used in the round to propel the bullet isn't black powder. Modern ammunition uses smokeless powder and not black powder, aka gun powder.

And when black powder becomes illegal.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43624191)

Next, governments will move to ban purchases of Diet Coke and packs of Mentos. Anyone caught purchasing large amounts of each will be arrested for conspiring to create an active volcano.

Re:And when black powder becomes illegal.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43624431)

Or PVC pipe...you can make potato cannons out of them! The right projectile...you've got a pretty substantial weapon...

this would have prevented the boston bombing how? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43624199)

Oh right..it wouldn't have.

Less than worthless (4, Informative)

gweihir (88907) | about a year ago | (#43624249)

Black powder can be found almost everywhere, even in societies that do not have a gun-fetish. Every little firecracker has it in it. These detectors would cause so many false positives as to be not only absolutely worthless, they would have negative value as they waste massive amounts of resources.

But I get it, the US administration, and under its tutoring the US population, have lost all rationality when it comes to "terrorism" a long time ago. The next bombing (and it will happen) will just cause as much useless actionism and more steps towards a police-state as this one did. And if it takes too long for the next bombing to happen, the FBI will arrange a fake one, as they have done several times before.

Re:Less than worthless (3, Insightful)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | about a year ago | (#43624607)

Black powder can be found almost everywhere, even in societies that do not have a gun-fetish.

What does a "gun-fetish" have to do with it?

Black powder isn't used in any commercial cartridges that I know of, and the overwhelming majority of gun owners don't own or use black powder for anything but their Fourth of July fireworks.

It's mostly used by reenactors of various sorts, with muzzle-loading muskets/rifles/pistols/revolvers, and bought by the pound (I've got the best part of a pound in my ammo safe).

Though, frankly, making it is not so difficult as all that.....

hard to make (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43625677)

Actually, making "good" black powder isn't easy. Any idiot can mix sulfur, sodium nitrate and charcoal and make a sort of rapidly burning mixture. But it wouldn't be real black powder. You need to mix them and grind them together (a nontrivial process if you don't want to have it ignite), then you mix it with the right amount of water, make a paste, let it dry into a solid cake, then break the cake up in a way that makes nice sharp edged particles, as opposed to just grinding it into spherical dust particles.

I suspect that the bare mixture would probably work in an improvised device, but so would sugar and perchlorate, or Pyrodex, or SolidOx and fuel or.. you get the idea.. The idiots bombing abortion clinics used to favor fire extinguishers as their pressure vessel. A bit more expensive than a pressure cooker, but a lot less conspicuous. And they favored chlorate/fuel mixtures.

Re:Less than worthless (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43624649)

The next bombing (and it will happen) will just cause as much useless actionism and more steps towards a police-state as this one did.

What actions towards a police state did this one cause? Your cognitive biases are causing you to see things where there is nothing.

Re:Less than worthless (1)

gweihir (88907) | about a year ago | (#43625077)

I have no cognitive bias here. I got a pretty good understanding how the 3rd Reich, Stalinism and the DDR worked in school. There is quite a bit more than "nothing" and it is in an advanced stage.

Re:Less than worthless (1)

baKanale (830108) | about a year ago | (#43626437)

Well, New York City Mayor Bloomberg has openly said that we need to change our laws and the way we interpret the Constitution, for one. Give it some more time and I'm sure more of the same will crop up. http://politicker.com/2013/04/bloomberg-says-post-boston-interpretation-of-the-constitution-will-have-to-change/ [politicker.com]

Re:Less than worthless (1)

misexistentialist (1537887) | about a year ago | (#43625925)

Some states already ban firecrackers to protect the children. It's just common sense, and the rest of country will have to advance.

Or the US could just mind its own business (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43624345)

The US could stop overthrowing every fledgling democracy, and installing bloody dictators in the service of their corporations.

Then they wouldn't hate us.

false positives? (4, Interesting)

houghi (78078) | about a year ago | (#43624347)

This would be great to create false positives. Just sprinkle some on random people to create as many false positives as possible.
Then when they turn the system off, do some small attack and then when they turn it back on, start with the false positives again.

remember: terrorism isn't about killing people, it is about spreading terror. The actual limiting of peoples freedom will be done in congress. Installing this means the terrorists have won.

Re:false positives? (1)

nicoleb_x (1571029) | about a year ago | (#43624509)

Yep, just stand by the elevator in the parking garage at the airport and unravel a few firecrackers and then walk over to the security line and fire up the video camera for some laughs.

Re:false positives? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43624951)

Spread it on some rats.. Watch them tear up the streets with backhoes.

Re:false positives? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43625113)

Installing this means the terrorists have won.

Oh, I think that ship had sailed many years ago. Unlawful and indefinite detention + undeterred bombing of several countries means that the terrorists have won.
this is just terrorists spiking the ball...

Re:false positives? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43625349)

Came here to say this. Can't read TFA as it times out, but reading between the lines they're looking for sulfur. Can't see any reason why you'd be arrested for carrying a leaky sack o' sulfur, even if they know you're doing it to make false positives and you'll be watched. So the terrorists would just have to give some kid $10, a leaky SoS, and have them go about their way.

Now there's a joke (2)

meerling (1487879) | about a year ago | (#43624395)

Black powder is an ancient explosive, not to mention easy and cheap to make. We even did it in one of my science classes.
(Sure, that was back in the 80s when chemistry in a science class meant you actually mixed and tested various chemicals instead of just watching a video on the structure of polymers as it pertains to the plastics industry, but still.)
Also, gunpowder is not that powerful, and there are plenty of others with more bang that are nearly as easy to make.

Bet those sensors go absolutely berserk during July. :p

Of course, if someone wanted to cause trouble, just toss a handful of power into the wind blowing on a crowd anywhere they have those sensors.
Any security system that can be so easily swamped with false positives (the false positive is not that the gunpowder was detected, but rather that they were a threat, had anything to do with it, or had any knowledge regarding it at all.
And that's assuming it's only going off on gunpowder, because if it goes off on sulfur, even an egg salad sandwich or certain types of antibiotics could cause a lockdown. How many of those will occur before someone realizes that trying to detect a common element is not security.

Re:Now there's a joke (1)

Princeofcups (150855) | about a year ago | (#43624541)

How many of those will occur before someone realizes that trying to detect a common element is not security.

Rationality hasn't slowed much less stopped the long lines, groupings, delays that people go through at airports, train stations, concerts, sporting events, etc. Expect the same kind of lines and checks at "public" events in the future. People collecting in any form is bad for the powers that be. They might start talking, or heaven forbid, exchanging ideas. For us "oldsters" who remember society in the sixties, compared to where we are now in terms of repression, it's just one more small step to get there.

TSA (1)

gregulator (756993) | about a year ago | (#43624475)

So what the hell do the puffer scanners at the airport scan for??? Nukes?

before too many things need to be unsaid... (2)

roc97007 (608802) | about a year ago | (#43624527)

Just hang on a minute.

"Smokeless powder" (nitrocellulose) pretty much replaced gunpowder (sulfer, charcoal, and potassium nitrate) in firearms over an hundred years ago, except for historical reproductions. And even those replicas of old firearms largely use alternative propellants that are engineered to have the same bang per volume of gunpowder (as the propellant is measured by volume during reloading). The "gunpowder" in fireworks is not the same propellant used in modern firearms. Equating the two could lead to some confusion. This distinction will be entirely lost on the congressional floor, but as nerds, we should be aware of it.

Too much Hollywood (3)

slew (2918) | about a year ago | (#43624703)

What this appears to be talking about is how at the airport they now swab your carry-on luggage and put it in a machine. I don't think these boston folks would have been though any "swabing" checkpoint so the existance of a device that did this probably would not have made anyone "safer" in this case (or any similar non-airport/govt-building checkpoint situation).

For those curious, the idea behind an IMS (ion mobility spectrometer), is that you ionize your sample (well sort of, you have water or other liquid vapor with ions dissolved in it, not just pure ions in air or in a vaccum) and waft them into a drift tube and use fact that these ionized vapors have slightly different masses so they have different mobility under an electric field. The "spectra" of the mobility under this electric field helps to identify the original chemicals in the swab.

The specific problem they are trying to solve with black powder is that the ions formed by Sulphur (atomic mass 32) and Oxygen (atomic mass 16) are very difficult to disambiguate for a clean detection signal (since O2n- and S1n- have about the same mass).

The common method of disamgibuating is to add solvents or chemical reagents before ionization. AFAIK, in the case of Oxygen interference, a common way to change the ionic signature is to add dichlorolmethane CH2CL2 and the resulting reaction usually exchanges O2- ions for CL- ions (which is enough different than sulphur ion to make it easy to detect), but unfortuantly, dichloromethane also has a side effect of inhibiting the formation of various Sulphur ion allotropes (i.e., different number of sulphur atoms in the ion). So these folks apparently came up with a technique where you ionize first (avoiding the problem with CH2CL2 and sulphur ion formation) and then pass all the ions through a CH2CL2 "titration region" in the drift tube (effectively replacing many of O2- ions that mask the sulphur ion signature with Cl- ions).

Of course the devil is in the details which I haven't read about yet...

Re:Too much Hollywood (1)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about a year ago | (#43625659)

the idea behind an IMS (ion mobility spectrometer), is that you ionize

Thank you. That's a hell of lot more interesting and informative than the bazillionth gun pedant pointing out the difference between a clip and a magazine.

sulfur isn't necessary (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43624737)

You can make a similar bomb propellant without sulfur. black powder being Potassium Nitrate, carbon & sulfur. The carbon and sulfur and be replaced with other material (ie: sucrose) for similar results.
a detector for certain nitrate compounds would be much more useful.

But.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43624869)

Blackpowder is legal....

Re:But.. (1)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about a year ago | (#43625723)

Blackpowder is legal....

So are knives, but you can't carry one onto a plane unless you get it from one of the numerous restaurants that are past the security checkpoints. Make sure you order a tough steak so you can get a big steak knife, of just have your accomplice in the kitchen give you a carving knife. Heck, maybe you can get 'em at the gift shop.

Security theater marches on! Apparently the Boston bombers actually used black powder, which just goes to show that (fortunately) they weren't better bomb makers. Smokeless powder is also perfectly legal (used largely by ammo reloaders) and much more powerful. Detecting black powder is not of much use, because somebody able to smuggle a bomb on an airplane would almost certainly use something better. I've never heard of black powder being used in such a bomb.

Does it happen to find golf balls too? (2)

Tomsk70 (984457) | about a year ago | (#43624981)

I hear there's quite a market for them.

Several attacks a decade? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43625067)

And we are going to spend $billions, curtail individual liberty and privacy expectations; to do nothing about something we couldn't stop if we had to.

We are such tools.

So... (1)

msauve (701917) | about a year ago | (#43625095)

Don't light any matches or eat any eggs before flying.

Lol (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43625301)

I've made black powder with charcoal I made from trees I planted.

If you think KNO3 or S is a problem, wait til folks drive by the dropoff
and dust the ground.

Maybe you shouldn't make such enemies.

Rome didn't collapse in a day.
Folks in glass empires ought not fly drones.

Model rockets (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43625385)

Wonder what this means for the hobby of model rocketry?

Model rockets may be dead (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43625803)

There are several issues that are coming together to end the hobby of model rocketry forever. Combined with a waining interest in the hobby has resulted in Estes creating new product lines.

Years from now, don't expect to take your grandkids out to the local field to launch mosquitoes.

Re:Model rockets (1)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about a year ago | (#43625829)

Wonder what this means for the hobby of model rocketry?

Nothing bad - they have a wonderful model rocketry range at Gitmo.

Pointless - there were already bomb-sniffing dogs (3, Interesting)

SuperBanana (662181) | about a year ago | (#43625399)

There were bomb-sniffing dogs working the marathon - they were pulled once the elite runners had gone through and the dignitaries had left.
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