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Unique research uses chemistry to fight terrorism

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A Perth based explosives chemist has received national recognition and financial support for his work in determining the origins of homemade bombs.

The Australian Government’s prestigious National PhD Program sees the Department of Education support PhD candidates to undertake industry-focused projects and will fund forensic chemist Robert Dunsmore’s Curtin University PhD research, to be conducted at ChemCentre in Western Australia.

Although there is extensive research into explosives, Mr Dunsmore’s work is distinctive because it is among the first to look at not only the components of homemade explosives, but also attempts to source the origins of those components.

Mr Dunsmore works as an expert in the field of fire and explosives at ChemCentre and will use the national funding to analyse the starting chemicals used in homemade explosives, to differentiate where the materials were sourced.

This will allow counter terrorism agencies to more easily identify perpetrators, track terrorist networks and prevent future attacks.

 Mr Dunsmore said his research would address a critical gap in forensic explosive analysis, which is currently limited to identifying the materials used.

“Homemade explosives are used globally for destruction and terrorism — and police and law enforcement agencies are dependent on explosive analysis to combat future risk of attacks,” he said.

“This project aims to enhance what we can find out from the residue left from explosives — such as the ability to tell the difference between samples of the same type of explosives, which could be due to different starting materials.

“The potential to provide this additional information beyond the identification of explosives will increase police intelligence capabilities, which could include the ability to link an ingredient to make an explosive found at one location to an explosive found at another location.”

Curtin University and ChemCentre are delighted the Federal Government has awarded Mr Dunsmore a National Industry PhD, which also teaches candidates how to best commercialise their research.

ChemCentre Chief Executive Officer Peter McCafferty said Mr Dunsmore’s work would enhance the cutting-edge forensic services the organisation provides to law enforcement agencies.

“ChemCentre has some of the leading forensic scientists in Australia and it is great to see the work of our team is receiving national attention,” he said.

“Rob Dunsmore’s work will further grow ChemCentre’s ability to carry out forensic explosive analyses which will, in turn, provide improved capability for law enforcement investigations and counter-terrorism operations.

“We are delighted Rob’s work has been recognised through his national PhD.”

Curtin Pro Vice-Chancellor Science and Engineering Professor Mark Ogden said Mr Dunsmore’s research showcased the best of the University’s connection to major industry bodies such as ChemCentre.

“This important project draws upon the world class forensic and analytical chemistry expertise in the School of Molecular and Life Sciences and ChemCentre,” he said.

“The long-term partnership and collaboration between our two organisations continue to have impact and the award of this prestigious National Industry PhD project will add significantly to this.”

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