This Defence and Security Accelerator (DASA) competition is seeking proposals that can address challenges associated with screening for, the preservation of sample / evidence, and the attribution of hazardous chemical and biological (ChemBio) materials. New technology options or technical approaches could ultimately help both the successful identification of material and directly / indirectly aid in bringing perpetrators to justice.

As well as addressing this diverse set of technical requirements, one of the goals of ‘Catch the ChemBio SCENT!’ is to engage with a non-traditional ChemBio supplier base (for example suppliers who have not worked in Defence and Security before) in order to yield innovative solutions.

Up to £1M is available to fund multiple emerging innovations (low technology readiness level (TRL)) to demonstrate proof-of-concept during Phase 1 of the competition. It is expected that proposals will not exceed £100K.

It is anticipated that there will be a second phase of this competition with additional funding, which will seek to further develop promising solutions from Phase 1 as well as identify and accelerate other solutions at a higher TRL.

Scope of competition

Screening for hazardous materials represents a key early step required during a ChemBio incident (i.e. in order to ‘Catch the ChemBio SCENT!’). Screening technologies are a critical tool for the analysis of unknown samples both in the field (i.e. deployed on Operations) and in a highly controlled environment (i.e. within an analytical laboratory); providing both a safety (i.e. triage) function and potential initial indication as to the hazardous material that is present. Therefore it is vital that the identification of hazardous ChemBio occurs correctly at this stage in order to ensure that handling and manipulation of the material is undertaken in a safe and controlled manner. Therefore technology options that can rapidly (i.e. ideally within minutes but up to a maximum of 60 minutes) and correctly identify agent classes and the nature / properties / characteristics of the hazard will be key to increasing the safety and the speed of analysis.

The sampling of hazardous materials needs to be a low burden, technically simple activity which can be undertaken by a diverse range of operators, from first responders, to military personnel and / or scientists. Moreover, the samples may need to be recovered from a broad range of contexts, including from within austere environments with potentially extreme climatic conditions through to urban populated areas. This poses a number of challenges including stabilising the material from degradation in transit to the laboratory for analysis. Crucially, the quality of the sample submitted to the laboratory directly dictates the level of analysis that can be undertaken on that material and, in turn, the quality of the resulting analytical data that can be produced. Therefore techniques that maintain the physical integrity and stability (i.e. chemical) or viability (i.e. biological) for the duration of transport are key to a successful analysis and attribution capability. Parallels may be found, from a Science and Technology perspective, in the medical and / or biomedical device sector (e.g. stabilisation of blood products and / or stem cells).

Finally, attribution activities help to bridge the gap between the laboratory and traditional forensic approaches by providing information of the provenance of the ChemBio material. Principally of interest here is the ability to identify the agent present (e.g. based on breakdown products), how the material was made / produced / stored (e.g. based on impurities, trace or background contaminants) and potentially linking materials derived from different sources (i.e. from release site of a terrorist event to an improvised laboratory). Parallels, from a technical perspective, may be found here in approaches used by seemingly unrelated sectors (e.g. in the authentication of high value food / drink or in materials used in the aerospace industry, or in investigations into the provenance of valuable art).

Thus, there are three main challenges in the competition:

4.1 Challenge 1: New screening technologies for rapidly detecting or identifying the presence or class of hazardous ChemBio materials in a sample

4.2 Challenge 2: New sampling collection systems that better maintain the integrity and viability of hazardous samples

4.3 Challenge 3: New analytical approaches to improve the forensic exploitation and the attribution of ChemBio materials and / or recovered chemical / biological weapons material

Click here for full details of the competition’s scope.

Join the Defence and Security Accelerator (DASA) on 16 November 2021, 2pm to 4pm (GMT) for a briefing webinar: click here to register for a place.