A Crime-Fighting Mass Spectrometer?

Extrel Corp., a 25-year-old Pittsburgh company, recently received a $44,000 Phase I grant from the National Institute of Environment Health Services under the Small Business Innovation Research program to investigate a novel approach to detecting and identifying trace contaminants—such as illegal drug and explosives vapors—in the air. Wade L. Fite, founder, chairman of the board, and director of research at Extrel, says, “It looks very interesting on paper. The SBIR grant will let us see if it looks good on anything but paper.” The novelty of Extrel’s mass spectrometer lies in its way of preconcentrating the trace contaminants—a method that factors in the gas pressure and flow rate of the sample through the system, as well as the amount of time spent on collecting and then purging the sample throughout the system. Fite says the goal is to detect “extremely low concentrations in a relatively short...

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