Local Chemists Specialize in Investigating Explosives

April 16, 2013

In the aftermath of the bombings at Monday's Boston Marathon, it's difficult to understand why it happened, but chemists can help figure out how it happened.

Federal agents are saying it was pressure cookers stuffed with explosives and nails that helped set off the dual blasts. Getting to the bottom of such an attack is the kind of investigating a local company specializes in.

"There are people who do this. There are people that study explosives, study how they come together, study how to collect evidence, study how to attribute that back to what's going on. Right here in Charlottesville, our company does that," said Joe Chipuk.

Chipuk is the director of chemical sciences for Signature Science. He leads a team of about 20 chemists. Although they are not working on the explosives that detonated at the Boston Marathon, he says it is the exact kind of situation they study.

"Chemists will spend their time trying to piece together what chemicals went into making these explosives and maybe where those chemical precursors came from," said Chipuk.

Chemists will take a terrifying scene, post-explosion, and try to make sense of it, at least on a scientific level.

"It's sad to see the fact that chemistry -- this is really chemistry -- explosives are chemicals, and chemistry is now doing things that it's really not supposed to do," said Chipuk. "We're not supposed to take chemicals and mix them together and make bombs."

But as threats continue to increase, so does the importance of guarding against it.

"The world of explosives is more and more dangerous day after day. People are mixing different things together and there's a lot of different sort of creative chemistry that's being involved in making explosives," he said.

Chipuk says, while no chemist ever wants to put their training to work, when the time comes, they are prepared.

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