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Explosive Detection Using Plasma-Assisted Desorption Ionization (PADI)

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For fast and dependable detection of explosives

Safe and effective detection of explosives depends on the ability to identify trace quantities of explosive materials rapidly. Hiden Analytical mass spectrometry systems facilitate versatile and sensitive explosive detection in real-time using plasma-assisted desorption ionization (PADI).


The ability to detect common explosive compounds is of paramount importance for security applications. Reliability is a required feature of all explosive detection systems; however, many applications – air travel in particular – also demand high detection speed and low sample preparation requirements.

Plasma-assisted desorption ionization (PADI) is one such technique, offering rapid and sensitive detection of explosive molecules without any requirement for sample preparation.1,2 

PADI uses dielectric barrier discharge (DBD) to produce a non-thermal atmospheric-pressure plasma jet. This means that, unlike in other plasma-based techniques, the plasma can be safely introduced directly to a sample under ambient conditions and without any damage to the sample.

The plasma jet both ionizes and desorbs molecules directly from the sample surface, at which point a mass spectrometer can detect ionized species. The characteristic mass spectra obtained can then be compared with those of explosive materials. Many common explosive compounds – including trinitrotoluene (TNT), pentaerythritol tetranitrate (PETN), and triacetone triperoxide (TATP) – can be detected to trace levels using this technique.

Explosive Detection with Hiden Analytical

The sample throughput rate achieved by a PADI detection system is limited by the speed of the mass spectrometry system used. The Hiden Analytical HPR-60 is an atmospheric quadrupole mass spectrometer optimized for plasma analysis. Researchers used the HPR-60 to achieve direct analysis in real-time thanks to its ability to sample continuously and obtain spectra for each sample in seconds.

Example plasma-assisted positive ion mass spectrum of some typical explosive compounds.

Example plasma-assisted positive ion mass spectrum of some typical explosive compounds.

Hiden Analytical produces industry-leading analytical tools tailored to plasma-based technologies. To find out more about our product range, get in touch with our team today.

Further Reading

  1. Whitmore, T. D. et al. Surface analysis by plasma assisted desorption ionisation mass spectrometry (PADI-MS). 3 (2007).
  2. Salter, T. L., Gilmore, I. S., Bowfield, A., Olabanji, O. T. & Bradley, J. W. Ambient Surface Mass Spectrometry Using Plasma-Assisted Desorption Ionization: Effects and Optimization of Analytical Parameters for Signal Intensities of Molecules and Polymers. Anal. Chem. 85, 1675–1682 (2013).