Purdue professor expert on detecting explosives, helps make flying safe

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Stephen Beaudoin presented at the OneZone Chamber luncheon June 14. (Photo by Mark Ambrogi)

By Mark Ambrogi

As a member of the energetics materials team, Purdue University professor of chemical engineering Stephen Beaudoin is at the forefront of making flying safe.

Beaudoin primarily works with the contact sampling and detection at the checkpoints at airports. The swabs he helped developed also can be used at sporting events or other venues. Beaudoin shared his research with the OneZone luncheon June 14 at the 502 East Event Centre, Carmel.

Beaudoin is part of a research team participating in Awareness and Localization of Explosives-Related Threats (ALERT), which is a multi-university Dept. of Homeland Security Center of Excellence. The Purdue team includes chemical, medical and aeronautical engineering professors.

“I’m happy to be able to talk to different groups like this to let them know what capabilities we have at Purdue and how Purdue works with the different government agencies to improve and enhance our national security,” Beaudoin said. “It’s just to let them know what we’re doing and how we fit in the overall scheme of keeping our national safe.”

Beaudoin, who has been at Purdue for 14 years, researched energetic materials (high stored amounts of chemical energy), such as explosives, propellants and pyrotechnics, for approximately eight years.

Beaudoin assured the audience any information he was sharing was approved by the Dept. of Defense and Homeland Security.

“The moment we use our technology once, the bad guys have it and are reverse engineering it,” Beaudoin said. “We don’t know what a terrorist looks like but they’re out there and they are working hard to harm people like us. There is a big challenge in our community to find ways to stay one step ahead of the newest threats coming our way.”

Most of the people Beaudoin said the terrorists they are catching with his team’s research are lone wolf ones, who are not affiliated with a state sponsor.

“These are people that are going to charge the gate with explosives strapped to them,” Beaudoin said. “Those people catch the people who are screaming explosives because they are coated with these things.”

Beaudoin said the swabs, the no-fly list and other protections make it clear to some terrorists they are not going to get through.

“They don’t test the fence,” Beaudoin said. “It’s the layers upon layers that make it a success.”

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