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Volume 10 (2010), Pages 546-562
Research Article

Photoluminescent Detection of Dissolved Underwater Trace Explosives

Department of Ocean Engineering, Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton, FL, USA

Received 27 April 2009; Revised 3 February 2010; Accepted 4 February 2010

Academic Editor: Richard Brown

Copyright © 2010 Tye¬†Langston.


A portable, rapid, and economical method for in situ trace explosive detection in aqueous solutions was demonstrated using photoluminescence. Using europium/thenoyltrifluoroacetone as the reagent, dissolved nitroglycerin was fluorescently tagged and detected in seawater solutions without sample preparation, drying, or preconcentration. The chemical method was developed in a laboratory setting and demonstrated in a flow-through configuration using lightweight, inexpensive, commercial components by directly injecting the reagents into a continually flowing seawater stream using a small amount of organic solvent (approximately 8% of the total solution). Europium's vulnerability to vibrational fluorescence quenching by water provided the mode of detection. Without nitroglycerin in the seawater solution, the reagent's fluorescence was quenched, but when dissolved nitroglycerin was present, it displaced the water molecules from the europium/thenoyltrifluoroacetone compound and restored fluorescence. This effort focused on developing a seawater sensor, but performance comparisons were made to freshwater. The method was found to perform better in freshwater and it was shown that certain seawater constituents (such as calcium) have an adverse impact. However, the concentrations of these constituents are not expected to vary significantly from the natural seawater used herein.