from the detector itself.3 Spectroscopic point detectors may be deployed outside at strategic locations around an extended potential target or inside buildings, either in HVAC ductwork or open occupied areas. Standoff detectors are generally considered for outdoor applications; however, this same technology can be employed for line-of-sight detection within open air structures as well. This chapter examines the current state of the art of both point and standoff detection technologies.


Nonspecific spectroscopic point detectors typically consist of a particle collection and concentration system, a laser light source, and appropriate electronics for determination of the size, shape, and spectral signature of aerosol particles. Aerosol collectors and concentrators play a key role in a rapid detection system. In order for airborne particles to be characterized by a laser light source, the particles must be brought to the laser. This step sometimes involves concentration of the particles through the use of a multistage virtual impactor, discussed in Chapter 4. The virtual impactor generates an airstream of concentrated particles in the desired size range.4 The airflow maintains a constant velocity during the measurement period.

The measurement of a particle's size is based on its inertial behavior in the airstream; smaller particles accelerate faster than larger particles.5 Using a dual laser system, the time of flight of a single particle can be determined. These times are compared with reference tables generated using particles of unit density (1 gram per cubic centimeter) and defined diameters to determine particle size. Utilizing both forward and backscattered light collected by multielement intensified solid-state arrays, one can ascertain key shape information. As long as the wavelength of light is shorter than the diameter of the particle, this scattering provides useful information. Resolution of shape information can be performed to about 1 μm. Current systems can analyze between 5,000 and 10,000 particles per second.

The U.K. Dstl has developed an operation system for the simultaneous measurement of particle shape, size, and number by the spatial analysis of the scattered light pattern. Utilizing high-angle spatial scattering data from a triple photomultiplier tube (PMT) detector, researchers have demonstrated differential light-scattering patterns that allow discrimination of cubes, spheres, curved fibers, flakes, straight fibers, and an irregular background. As with most optical interrogations, the analysis is simplified for a homogeneous population.

Biological and nonbiological particles can be distinguished from one another by their light absorption and fluorescence characteristics. Standard excitation between 260 and 280 nm excites the amino acids with conjugated double bonds: tryptophan, tyrosine, and phenylalanine. Of these three, tryptophan has a fivefold greater absorption cross section than the other two (see Figure 5.1) and is the principal component of protein absorption and emission at these wavelengths.

Other sources of fluorescence that absorb at longer wavelengths are the nicotinamides and riboflavins. The fact that the reduced form of nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate, [NAD(P)H], absorbs at a different wavelength from the oxidized form, NAD(P), provides a potential method for distinguishing between viable and nonviable bacteria. When bacteria die, they convert to the oxidized state. Therefore, the differential between NAD(P)H and NAD(P) can provide viability information in near real time. Current laboratory efforts are under way to exploit this parameter. If successful, this would significantly enhance the current ability to determine viability at the same time as discriminating biological from nonbiological particles in the environment.

An example of mature particle detection apparatus is the Met One Instruments line of particle counters. These systems are representative of multichannel particle size characterization devices that can accurately count particles in a variety of size distribution windows. These systems are reliable and


National Institute of Justice. 2001. An Introduction to Biological Agent Detection Equipment for Emergency First Responders, NIJ Guide 101-00. Available online at Accessed August 2003.


Stuebing, 2002. See note 2 above.


Stuebing, 2002. See note 2 above.

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement