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Project Overview

The goal of this project is to develop an advanced sensor system, that combines miniaturized Gas Chromatography (GC) as its key chemical separation tool, and Hollow-Fiber-based Infra Red Absorption Spectroscopy (HF-IRAS) as its key analytical tool to recognize and detect illicit drugs, key precursors and potential derivatives. The DIRAC sensor will be developed to:

  1. be used on the field primarily by customs officers for controls at the EU external frontiers and by law enforcement personnel for intra-Community checks as a rugged and hand-portable unit;
  2. perform rapid detection of key chemicals;
  3. reject interferents with minimal false positive alarm rate;
  4. perform advanced data analyses such as similarity evaluation between the chemical structure of the unknown sample with that of controlled/illicit substances. 

Currently, GC-IRAS (through FTIR implementation) is, together with GC-MS (Mass Spectrometry), the most powerful technique for the identification and quantification of amphetamines.So far, however, GC-IRAS has been implemented only as bench-top instrumentation for forensic applications and bulk analysis down to milli- and micro-gram quantities. In DIRAC, the use of silicon-micromachined GC columns, solid state lasers, and hollow fibres IR, will allow to develop a GC-IRAS sensor that features hand-portability and prompt response -for field operation- and is capable to perform both bulk analysis and trace analysis with nano-gram sensitivity. The DIRAC sensor will further feature a) an advanced sampling device, that separates the analyte from larger amounts of interfering materials (dust, skin particles) by electrostatic charging; and, b), an advanced silicon micro-machined pre-concentration device, capable to treat sequentially both volatile ATS substances and non volatile ammonium salts of the amphetamines. The main output of the DIRAC project will be a fully functional sensor prototype from sampling to read out.


Overall Objective and Specific Objectives

The Overall Objective of the project is the development of an advanced sensor for the detection and identification of illicit drugs and key precursors. This sensor is a complex instrument that consists of a number of building blocks, that is logical/physical units with their own processing techniques and procedures. It is therefore worth to define a number of Specific Project Objectives, each corresponding to the development of one of the key building blocks. The table below provides a list of all the Specific Objectives and indicates the Workplan where the specific objective is pursued.

Specific ObjectiveTitleWorkplan where the specific objective is pursued
Ob.1 Development of the sensor system WP2
Ob.2 Development of the sampling module Wp3
Ob.3 Development of the pre-treatment/preconcentration modules WP4
Ob.4 Development of the HF-IRAS module WP5
Ob.5 Development of the GC column and detectors WP6
Ob.6 Development of the Expert System and of the Database of Non-negative Detections WP7