Overview


The Schengen free-movement area within the EU-27 enables free internal travel for the population. To cope with the migration of people the EU has controlled border crossing points, both air, sea and land.

However, it is not just people that cross borders each year. Imported goods, machinery, alcohol and tobacco also cross borders, all of which are subject to customs duty and tax. For this very reason, goods are smuggled into, out of and around the EU every year from foodstuffs, technology and drugs, to endangered species, firearms and explosives.

As EU populations continue to increase, all of these figures are expected to rise. Hence there is a growing need for new and/or improved technologies to ensure that the EU's borders remain permeable and efficient for legitimate travellers and goods, while being an effective barrier to cross-border crime.

"The concept of the SNIFFLES project is to develop a state-of-the-art miniature and portable electronic gas sensor capable of detecting hidden persons and illegal substances - providing a cost effective and scalable technology to complement the work of sniffer dogs. "

The artificial sniffer will be based on mass spectrometry using a novel "Linear Ion Trap Mass Spectroscopy" method (Figure 1.1a). All atomic and molecular ions are, in principle, accessible by mass spectrometry (through analysis of mass-to-charge ratios of ions), making it a universal method for chemical analysis. However, its implementation requires suitable methods of ion generation, ion analysis, and ion detection. The consortium will address each of these processes, developing unique solutions for an integrated portable detection device.

This will deliver an all-encompassing solution for the detection of illegal substances; including weapons, drugs, explosives, CBRNE and hidden persons. Furthermore, within SNIFFLES, the implementation and use of the device will be carefully considered, in order to ensure complementary use alongside Sniffer Dogs.

Project Overview Figure 1.1a

Figure 1.1a: The SNIFFLES Linear Ion Trap Mass Spectrometer device Concept (block diagram)

Figure 1.1a shows a block diagram for a complete linear ion trap (LIT) Mass Spectrometer based artificial Sniffer system with all of its key components labelled. In the case of an unknown vapour analyte, a sample is introduced into an ion source via a capillary tube, and ionised. Ions may be collimated using a series of Einzel lenses and injected into an ion trap which acts as an 'electronic test tube'. Ions are then selectively ejected and detected with a multiplier detector and high gain amplifier.

The resulting mass spectrum is thus a unique 'fingerprint' of the unknown analyte vapour, which may then be identified by comparison with known mass spectra from an existing database of substances.

In the case of a solid analyte, such samples maybe analysed by first vaporising the particulate using a cool microplasma. The vapourised sample is admitted into the ion trap via a carrier gas. In this case the sample inlet takes the form of a microplasma torch in addition to the capillary tube.