In counter-terrorism applications, be they military, law enforcement or security applications, it’s important to understand how the words detection and identification are properly used. When talking about explosives, detection is the ability to determine whether or not an explosive is present; identification is the ability to say which compound is actually there – for example, TNT, RDX, TATP, etc. As you might imagine, there is also quite a lot of flexibility in identification; for example, being able to identify a chlorate is less specific, implies less identifying power, than being able to identify a particular compound of chlorates, like potassium chlorate.

Additionally important, terminology-wise is to understand the difference between trace levels and bulk levels in the context of explosives detection and identification. A trace amount is an amount that cannot be seen with the naked eye; a bulk amount is that amount that can be seen with the human eye – even if only one crystal, if it can be seen it is a bulk amount.

At Field Forensics we offer several detection and identification systems – both instruments and disposable test kits.


ELITE™ detection and identification kits are simple, rugged & reliable. They detect and identify commercial, military and home-made explosives (HME), trace and bulk. There are two models, the EL100, which detects all nitrogen-based explosives at trace levels, and the EL240, which detects and identifies peroxide and chlorate based HME and precursors, in liquid, vapor or solid forms.


The IDEX™ series of precursor identifiers each identify one type of explosive precursor. They can be used individually to interdict trafficking of particular precursors, in combination to identify particular explosive compounds, and are also used to backup portable Raman systems to confirm the class of chemical or in cases where the material is not in the Raman library or exhibits fluorescence. IDEX™ is currently used by police and military EOD and anti-terrorist teams worldwide.


The ULTRA™ units are colorimetric, disposable testers that in one step detect & identify trace or bulk HME and HME precursors, using not only a color change but a color pattern. Currently four models in the ULTRA™ range: ULTRA 1B6: nitro-aromatic, aliphatic, nitrate; ULTRA 246: ammonium nitrate & chlorate; ULTRA 236: urea nitrate & ammonium nitrate; ULTRA 459: chlorate, perchlorate & peroxide.


HandyRam™ is the latest in Raman technology that allows safer identification of explosives than other competitive systems. HandyRam™ fits in your pocket, runs from two AA batteries, is IP67 – complies with MILSTD 810G. HandyRam™ is the first true pocket-sized Raman Spectrometer that can identify thousands of compounds. Various libraries are available from Field Forensics yet the user can develop libraries with the included software package.

Spot.On.ID™ - Thin Layer Chromatography

Fast, Easy TLC Analysis for Field and Laboratory

Thin Layer Chromatography (TLC) is ideal for rapid presumptive identification, which—when used in conjunction with color tests or other field analytical methods—gives the end user a lot more information about the explosive compound(s) in question. TLC is inexpensive, practical, and gives valuable chemical information including identification of compounds in a mixture and establishing the purity of a substance—forensics labs routinely use TLC for these reasons. Winner of the R&D100 Award it tests forensic samples to identify explosives, illicit drugs, insecticides on surfaces, liquids and solids with greater power than other presumptive analyses and it works in a complementary way to color tests.