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.
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.