A Nose for Explosives

This article was originally written and submitted as part of a Canada 150 Project, the Innovation Storybook, to crowdsource stories of Canadian innovation with partners across Canada. The content has since been migrated to Ingenium’s Channel, a digital hub featuring curated content related to science, technology and innovation.

Descendant of "NRC Blue-Box"

Long before crime-fighting wizardry captured the public’s eye, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) possessed one of the world’s best bomb sniffers. NRC built the first device three decades ago to battle terrorism in the skies. Today, Canada’s national Research Council technology remains the hallmark in explosives detection.

In the 1970s, NRC was well-known for its expertise in the analysis of chemical vapours. So when Canadian aviation security officials were concerned about hijackings and bomb threats, they enlisted NRC’s help to test the vapours from “TNT dynamite” – a popular explosive. The result was a suitcase-sized explosives vapour detector called the “NRC Blue Box”, which could also detect some plastic explosives. In the 1980s, the RCMPused these devices to protect Queen Elizabeth II, Pope John Paul II and U.S. President Ronald Reagan during state visits.

Following aircraft bombings in the 1980s, NRC bomb sniffers were installed in all Canadian airports. Meanwhile, NRC developed a faster technique to detect both illicit drug and explosives compounds. Today, the NRC technology is used worldwide.

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National Research Council Canada

The National Research Council Canada (NRC) is the Government of Canada's largest science and research organization.

The NRC partners with Canadian industry to take research impacts from the lab to the marketplace, where people can experience the benefits. This market-driven focus delivers innovation faster, enhances people's lives and addresses some of the world's most pressing problems. We are responsive, creative and uniquely placed to partner with Canadian industry, to invest in strategic R&D programming that will address critical issues for our future.