Zack Caron ’16

Hometown: Scituate, R.I.

Majors: M.S. Chemical Engineering

Zachary Caron was a chemistry whiz working in private industry and eager to work on a project that could thwart terrorism when he met Chemical Engineering Professor Otto Gregory. Together, they’ve created a sensor that detects triacetone triperoxide, or TATP, the explosive terrorists used in bombings in Brussels, Paris, and London.

“It’s awesome working on a project you know will do something for the greater good,’’ Zach said. “It’s incredibly fulfilling knowing that you’re helping protect innocent people. It makes me want to work even harder.’’

The sensor is still in its preliminary stage, but Zach and Professor Gregory hope to have a portable version they can test in different environments other than their laboratory in Kirk Hall. The ultimate goal of the device is to find one molecule of an explosive in a billion molecules of air.

The sensor is designed to continuously detect vapors emitted by the explosive. It causes the TATP molecule to decompose, which emits heat or vapors that are then detected. The sensor also detects nitrogen-based and peroxide-based explosives. And it works continuously, unlike bomb-sniffing dogs that can get tired and need breaks.

“This feature makes the sensor more attractive to be used in high-traffic areas like airports, train stations, and ports,’’ said Zach. “It’s unique, and we hope to get this on the market in the next couple years.’’

 

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Elizabeth Koller was a tinkerer as a kid, building everything from theater sets to tiny mousetrap cars. In high school, she excelled in math and science, fields often dominated by men.