Teams of biologists, chemists, and engineers work every day to solve challenges related to chemical and biological detection and forensics. Through research in biodetection, chemistry and materials, and pathogen characterization, PNNL sits uniquely at the nexus of chemistry and biology, supporting important national security missions to prevent and counter acts of terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
PNNL has a long history of developing, integrating, and evaluating methods to detect biomolecules of national security importance, including the genetic material of biological threat agents or emerging diseases and protein toxins. These methods are routinely customized and implemented in operational environments through close interaction with federal, state, and local stakeholders.
The detection of trace amounts of toxins in biological samples leads to the identification of signatures—unique or distinguishing measurements, patterns, or collections of data—that detect, characterize, or predict phenomena of interest. Beyond detection, we also characterize biological toxins and human pathogens to determine the chemical and biochemical signatures of methods that can be used to produce biological threat agents. We also use signatures to identify the potential origins of a deliberately released threat agent.
Similar to our biodetection capabilities, PNNL has extensive expertise in detecting trace and ultra-trace levels of chemicals and radionuclides, which provide insight into the processes used to make chemical weapons. This research is critical to national security because it informs defense strategies. We continue to advance the field by investigating ways to apply materials sciences and nanotechnologies to these detection methods.
Building upon PNNL’s rich history in both chemical and biological signatures science, we use novel chemical approaches to address problems of biological origin. By interfacing disciplines, we are solving a wide range of national security challenges; for instance, integrating trace detection methods with modeling and simulation to understand the origin of a sample or material.