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The RAAD Detects Biological Agents With Accuracy

Written by Stephen Vicinanza

MIT Lincoln Laboratory develops the Rapid Agent Aerosol Detector (RAAD), which detects biological agents with extreme accuracy. Identifying toxic particles suspended in the air, rapidly.

The researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Lincoln Laboratory believed that the world at large was vulnerable to airborne biological agents. Whether it was in an enclosed space, or open, these silent, nearly invisible bioagents can sicken or kill living things before steps can be taken to mitigate their effects effectively.

Large spaces where crowds of people will congregate are prime targets for biowarfare strikes, or farms and forests can be targets of aerial bio attacks, by terrorists. Early warning of suspicious biological aerosols can have a remedial response to the release of a dangerous biological weapon. The faster cleanup and treatment can begin, the better the outcomes for living things, people, plants, and animals.

To meet this concern the Lincoln Laboratory researchers have developed a highly sensitive and accurate trigger for the United States military’s early warning system for biological warfare agents.

The trigger is the cue for the detection system to collect sample particles from the surrounding air and materials. It can then initiate the process of identifying particles as dangerous bioagents or not. The RAAD has a significant reduction in all too familiar false positives while maintaining detection performance, that meets or exceeds today’s detection systems.

The RAAD Process

The RAAD uses a multistep process to determine the presence of biological warfare agents. The first step is to pull aerosols into the detector using a combined aerosol cyclone with high-speed rotation and an aerodynamic lens that focuses the particles into condensed volume, or beam of aerosol. The RAAD aerodynamic lens offers more aerosol enrichment than any other air-to-air concentrator.

The next step is a near-infrared (NIR) laser diode to create a structured trigger beam. The beam can detect the size, presence, and trajectory of a single aerosol particle. The particle is then determined to affect the respiratory tract or not, and if so does it affect the tract adversely? If so, it is illuminated, by an ultraviolet (UV) laser, activated, and a multiband laser-induced fluorescence is collected.

There is then a step to use an embedded logic decision, referred to as the “spectral trigger.” This is the NIR light, and the UV data are used to predict if the particle corresponds to a threat-like bioagent. A profile of the particle is determined through vaporization where spark-induced breakdown spectroscopy can be used, and an atomic emission can determine the particle’s elemental content.

Spark-induced breakdown spectroscopy measures the elemental content of the particle. This is done by creating high-temperature plasma, vaporizing the particle, and measuring its atomic emissions.

These steps are then integrated into a tiered system, that can determine if the particles are threat-like and if they are in sufficient numbers to do harm, then an alarm sounds. This happens within minutes of first being initialized.

For more information on MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory RAAD detection machine go to the News story here.

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For the past 8 years, I have been writing about embedded technologies, added to my technical, academic, and medical editorial experience, with companies like Elsevier and Cambridge University Press. I tell people to read what I write, not try to pronounce my last name. I am always available for comments and suggestions you can reach me at and I promise I will take the time to reach back out to you. I live in the North East with my wonderful family.

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The RAAD Detects Biological Agents With Accuracy

by Stephen Vicinanza time to read: 2 min