UH Researchers Develop Methods To Detect Banned Substances In Food Shipments

A University of Houston chemistry team has been working on methods to detect explosives in food shipments. Ed Mayberry reports the work could help detect banned substances in airports for Homeland Security, but also banned substances in commercial products.


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A provisional patent has been filed for electrochemistry work by UH materials scientist Gobet Advincula and his team, which may lead to miniature devices to help detect explosives or banned substances in airports, as well as monitoring commercial products for substandard additive products.

“We’ve been interested in making small miniature devices using electrochemistry, to make sensing of these banned substances or detection of explosives as fast and as reliable as possible.”

Gobet Advincula works with a variety of devices in his laboratory. He is seen here adjusting his surface plasmon spectrometer instrument prior to another experiment.

The work was funded by the National Science Foundation, in collaboration with some companies. The research will hopefully lead to portable devices — hand-held scanners for bomb detection or nerve agent detection in airports. 

“For example, a while ago there was a lot of news on melamine being added to increase the protein content on some pet foods, and even milk. And so we have been looking at trying to find, again, ways of detecting even small amounts of these substances on food products.”

Consumer confidence in China’s dairy industry plummeted in 2008 after it was revealed that the industrial chemical melamine was being added to watered-down milk.

Advincula says his discovery-driven group is helping the University of Houston market and license technologies commercially — a hallmark of a Tier One university. Their research is being published simultaneously in three journals.

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