Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science in Chemistry



First Advisor

Jimmie Oxley


Terrorism is an ever-present threat in our society. In the last decade alone, terrorists killed an average of 21,000 people each year [1]. In 2018, there were 289 bombings in the US, and bomb threats increased by 32% since the year prior [2]. Before that, there was an average of 205 criminal bombings in the US between 2004 and 2005 [3]. All of this is not including the 2,996 lives lost when 4 planes struck the Pentagon, the Twin Towers, and a field in Pennsylvania, leaving long term physical and mental wounds on those who were affected by it [4]. To avoid such loss, these attacks must be detected and disposed of before they are able to be carried out to devastation.

Trace explosive detection is the primary method for the quick and easy sampling of suspicious persons or packages at checkpoints, such as those found in airports. This method employs swabs that are then inserted into an explosive trace detection system (e.g. an ion mobility spectrometer). Unfortunately, this method is not infallible. Swabs must be able to both adsorb and desorb particles with great efficiency to ensure detection even of the smallest amounts, but developers are generally forced into a tradeoff where one (usually desorption) takes precedence. Therefore, it is the intention of this study to improve swabbing methods through both adsorption and desorption via an electrostatic charge. It was hypothesized that the electrostatic charge would enhance the attraction of particles but would be dissipated upon insertion in the detection instrument allowing for easy desorption. Multiple methods of swabbing with electrostatically enhanced swabs were examined via two variables: the analyte and the substrate from which the analyte is removed. Unfortunately, despite previous findings [5], electrostatic charge was not found to significantly improve collection efficiency. It is, however, believed that these conflicting results may be due to a change in environment and should require further study.

Explosives are not the only threat from terrorism, though. As demonstrated by a Japanese cult in Matsumoto city (1994) and the Tokyo subway (1995), the use of chemical warfare agents can be just as destructive, causing 5,500 injuries and 12 deaths [6]. Chemical warfare agents also have multiple methods of dispersal, including via an explosive device. Although there have not thus far been many reports of terrorism through chemical attacks, both first responders and soldiers in the field still need to be cautious of their possibility. Commonly, if a package is suspected of having a chemical warfare agent within it, it is destroyed through incineration. Therefore, another intention of this study is to create an easily transferable plasticized thermite powder that could safely heat chemical warfare agents to destruction. Although, chemical warfare agents could not be used for this study, theoretical analysis was performed by examining the heat input into multiple surrogates. Multiple variations of the plasticized thermite were examined for greatest heat output to destroy chemical warfare agents, but it is believed that the mixture can be altered to destroy biological warfare agents as well.

Available for download on Thursday, August 25, 2022