Office of Technology Transfer – University of Michigan

Sensor for Triacetone Triperoxide Based on Molecular Gelation

Technology #5238

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Anne J. McNeil
Managed By
Tiefei Dong
Senior Licensing Specialist, Life Sciences 734-763-5332

Need for sensors for peroxide-based explosives

Detection of homemade explosives is an ongoing challenge for high-value areas such as airports, large events, and regions of active combat; thus, the market for detection devices is expected to grow from $1.5 to $3.3 billion over the next three years. TATP (triacetone triperoxide) is an organic peroxide based explosive that has been used in at least three terrorist attacks in the past decade. Its ease of preparation from readily available household items and difficulty of detection have made TATP an explosive of choice for terrorist groups. It is used by suicide bombers on airplanes and in many IEDs (improvised explosive devices) in Iraq and Afghanistan. TATP is not used in commercial applications as it is highly unstable and can be detonated by friction or heat. Currently several options exist for TATP detection, but all suffer from limitations. Most of the current methods require expensive and non-portable instrumentation which requires extensive operator training, needs extensive sample preparation, or has poor sensitivity. Inexpensive portable sensors capable of TATP detection are based on colorimetric measurements and colored samples interfere with this detection modality. Thus, there is an urgent need to develop portable, convenient, inexpensive and robust technology to detect presence of TATP explosive.

Chemical TATP sensor with no instrumentation

Researchers in the Chemistry Department at the University of Michigan have developed a TATP sensor that is based on liquid-to-gel phase transition of a sensor molecule. To perform this test, a sample is mixed with acid, and then added to a tube containing the sensor molecule. If TATP is present in the sample, the liquid turns into a gel and is unable to flow, thus giving an unambiguous readout. TATP can be detected in colored samples as the readout does not rely on a color change. Importantly, this technology requires no instrumentation, no power supply, and virtually no training. It is a significant improvement over current TATP detection options and can reduce the threat of terrorist attacks and IED explosions in combat zones.

Applications and Advantages


  • Detection of TATP explosive
  • Airport and other mass transit security
  • Detection of IEDs in combat zones


  • No instrumentation needed
  • Unambiguous yes/no readout
  • Simple and easy to use
  • Convenient