Public Release: 

Tracer Licenses ORNL Technology That Could Take Bite Out Of Crime

DOE/Oak Ridge National Laboratory

OAK RIDGE, Tenn. -- New York's Tracer Detection Technology Corp. has licensed an Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) technology expected to play a role in counter-terrorism and anti-narcotics efforts.

The licensing agreement, announced today by Tracer Detection Technology President Jay Fraser, gives the Long Island-based company sole commercial rights to use ORNL's microcantilever technology to detect chemicals used to tag explosives, drugs and other materials. A portable unit using microcantilevers, which are similar to miniature phonographic needles, can sniff out explosives or other tagged material.

"This day culminates years of persistence and collaboration with great scientists working to explore how this new chemical tagging technology will benefit society," Fraser said. "Today, we unveil an important tool for law enforcement and national security organizations in their fight against terrorism and crime."

Recently, Tracer successfully demonstrated its capability to chemically tag, trace and identify a bomb. Tracer personnel added a small amount of the tagging agent to the black powder that was a key ingredient of the explosive. The agent emits an invisible and environmentally safe vapor that can be detected and analyzed by law enforcement agents.

In 1995, Tracer also demonstrated its capability to chemically tag and trace a large quantity of U.S. currency that may have been used in an illegal transaction or kidnapping and ransom scenario.

The technology, developed at the Department of Energy (DOE) facility by Life Sciences Division researchers Thomas Thundat, Rick Oden and Eric Wachter, can detect the tagging agent before and after an explosion.

"This technology will not only enhance the detection capability of dangerous explosives prior to detonation, but will also provide criminal investigators with the ability to determine the manufacturer of the explosives based on post explosive analysis," said Norman Kaish, chairman and co-founder of Tracer Detection Technology.

In addition to its applications with explosives, Tracer expects this technology to be useful to tag and monitor the movement and location of contraband and shipments under surveillance. The tagging agent can also be used to provide product integrity assurance, which could be useful to the fragrance industry and others.

"This is another example of how the private sector can come to ORNL, look at our technology storehouse and find technology that can be used in the market for applications we didn't have in mind," said William R. Martin, Lockheed Martin Energy Research Corp. vice president for Technology Transfer. "An important aspect of this license is that it makes it possible for Tracer to take its own chemical and use our sensor technology to develop a detection system.

"This merger of a private company's in-house capabilities with a national laboratory's R&D capabilities could have a profound impact in the fight against terrorism."

Tracer is co-sponsoring a proposal with ORNL to develop advanced sensor technologies specifically designed for law enforcement programs. Funding for this research was provided by DOE's Office of Health and Environmental Research.


ORNL is managed by Lockheed Martin Energy Research Corp.

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