The Growing Impact of Analytical Techniques in Security

In an era constantly exposed to security threats, chemical and biological attacks, and identity thefts, government bodies, and security agencies are increasingly relying on analytical techniques to predict and prevent criminal activities.

Image Credit: LookerStudio/

Image Credit: LookerStudio/

As technology advances, the contribution of life sciences has become paramount. From identifying potential criminals through biometric analysis to detecting hazardous materials at border checkpoints, various analytical techniques are playing a crucial role in enhancing security.

Advanced Analytical Techniques in Security

By requiring only a few nanomoles of sample, mass spectrometry allows the identification of trace amounts of substances. Hence, it is often used in security, from detecting illicit drugs to identifying explosive materials, providing rapid and accurate results. Mass spectrometers are able to detect chemical warfare agents (CWA) in many sample forms. Similarly, gas chromatography also offers high sensitivity and specificity in detecting CWA.

Infrared spectroscopy has proven valuable in security for the identification and quantification of gaseous molecular species and is used in mobile detectors to detect nerve agent vapors. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is used to identify specific microorganisms and is commonly used for virus detection.

Biometric analysis has revolutionized security by enhancing access control and enabling identification with great precision, using unique personal traits such as voice, fingerprints, DNA, gait, and more.

Biometrics: The Frontier of Personal Security

Biometrics uses distinct physical and behavioral traits (e.g., face, fingerprint, gait) for identification or verification and is becoming more prevalent thanks to advancements in sensing technologies. It overcomes the drawback of password-based authentication and has spread widely thanks to the popularity of mobile phones that use biometric authentication.

DNA-based biometrics ensures precise identification of individuals and can help track criminals and identify victims. New automated processes allow rapid on-site DNA identification with no need for a laboratory. Processing times are around two hours, and data can be registered and stored in secure databases.

Due to the rapid development of smart cameras and mobile devices, facial recognition has become increasingly popular. This technique uses distinguishing features from the face image (mouth, nose, cheeks, eyes, etc.) to verify identity, and it is widely used in airports, border crossings, and public spaces. In addition, it is nowadays commonly used to unlock phones or grant access to secure areas.

The fingerprint pattern is unique to each individual and recognizable with high accuracy. Therefore, fingerprints are an ideal biometric identifier and have been used by law enforcement agencies to identify suspects and solve crimes.

Recent developments enable the integration of biometric recognition systems into smartphones, transforming mobile phones into fingerprint image acquisition devices and helping police forces verify people's identity.

The technology allows the acquisition and pre-processing of the images to enable fingerprint comparison against databases with no need for any additional equipment. Nowadays, fingerprint scanners are also part of most smartphones and laptops that use biometrics for secure access.

Chemical and Biological Threat Detection

The identification of chemical and biological agents plays a crucial role across multiple scenarios, including the detection of narcotics or hazardous substances at border checkpoints and crowded places or in the prevention of attacks and identification of potential threats.

The danger posed by biological and chemical agents prompts the need for continued development of analytical techniques and novel sensors. Traditional detection methods for bioagents (i.e., bacteria, viruses, and toxins) include assays based on biochemical and immunological recognition or biomolecular techniques such as PCR. Recently, novel sensors for bioagent detection based on nanomaterials have been explored.

Gold nanoparticles (AuNPs) can be used in the detection of bioagents, such as Brucella species, upon functionalization of AuNPs surface with an oligonucleotide complementary to the target DNA. This leads to assays that require shorter times (1–10 min in contrast to hours for PCR) while achieving low detection limits.

Analytical chemistry is used in the field of nuclear forensics to identify signatures – material characteristics such as isotopic abundances, elemental concentrations, and physical and chemical forms – that may link nuclear or radioactive material to individuals, locations, or processes.

For instance, uranium isotopes can be measured using radiation counting techniques (e.g., gamma spectrometry) or using mass spectrometry, including techniques such as inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) and secondary ion mass spectrometry (SIMS).

Commercial and Industrial Applications

A wide variety of detection equipment for hazardous materials is available commercially. Hazmat teams are routinely equipped with chemical detectors and monitoring kits that indicate the presence of the suspected chemicals.

Several companies have developed integrated contact-based fingerprint sensors for mobile platforms (e.g., HID Global, Integrated Biometrics) or software that uses the camera of the smartphone to capture fingerprints (Diamond Fortress Technologies).

Companies are increasingly using biometrics for access control, protecting sensitive data, and securing intellectual property. From food to pharmaceuticals, analytical techniques detect the presence of contaminants, ensuring product safety. At the same time, in supply chains, various methods are used to track product origins, prevent counterfeiting, and ensure quality control.

Ethical Considerations and Future Challenges

As advanced security technologies continue to develop, there are ethical concerns that require careful consideration, particularly regarding privacy issues, data protection, and potential misuse of biometric data.

One of the challenges lies in finding the balance between security and individual rights. Although biometrics is expanding rapidly, and together with the advances in the field of artificial intelligence, could have a great impact on security, the ethical implications need to be addressed with the provision of laws and regulations.

Conclusion: The Future of Security in a High-Tech World

From chemical analysis to biometrics, these tools are key in preventing threats and enhancing the security of both infrastructures and people in a world where technology develops at a fast rate. Current efforts are focused on increasing the speed and sensitivity of the instruments available while bringing down their size and cost.


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Further Reading

Last Updated: Jan 9, 2024

Dr. Stefano Tommasone

Written by

Dr. Stefano Tommasone

Stefano has a strong background in Organic and Supramolecular Chemistry and has a particular interest in the development of synthetic receptors for applications in drug discovery and diagnostics. Stefano has a Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University of Salerno in Italy.


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