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National Security Directorate

Leadership in Signature Discovery and Threat Detection

David Atkinson

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Explosives Detection

Dr. David Atkinson, Chief Scientist for Explosives Detection research, provides overall leadership for PNNL's technical strategy in explosives detection, as well as performing in related roles in engaging (and advising) government clients and end users, influencing national priorities, and multi-disciplinary program building.

Dr. Atkinson holds a Ph.D. in analytical chemistry from Washington State University, where he designed advanced chemical detection systems. He has worked in trace chemical detector development and deployment in the DOE National Laboratory complex over the last 18 years, with a specific emphasis on explosives detection. He has participated in all aspects of R&D on explosives detection, from performing fundamental research (and publishing the results), to doing testing/evaluation, to deploying equipment in the field and training end users.

Dr. Atkinson has spent much of his career working to enhance explosives detection, and this application dominates his presentations at large conferences and international meetings. He has done many years of work for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on applying detection instrumentation to aviation security (airport explosives detection), and is funded by DHS to provide technical guidance on explosive detection equipment. Dr. Atkinson's reputation in the area of explosives detection is also illustrated by membership on various government panels directly related to explosives. Many of his publications revolve around explosives detection, from a fundamental chemistry aspect to the development of deployed instrumentation. Dr. Atkinson holds a patent that describes the enhancement of explosives detection through ion mobility spectrometry (IMS) instrument modifications (US #6,495,824). He has also led projects in explosives detection outside the scope of security, such as munitions cleanup and environmental contamination at former military sites. Dr. Atkinson often receives invitations to give talks on explosives detection, and have made presentations at large national conferences (>10000 attendees) such as the American Chemical Society national meetings and PittCon. Recently, Dr. Atkinson completed a temporary assignment with DHS as subject matter expert on the explosives detection. This assignment provided him with intimate knowledge of the practical deployment aspects of explosives detection issues, which he puts to use in guiding the development of new detection technologies. He was selected by his peers as the co-chair of the 2011 Gordon Research Conference on explosive detection and also co-chairs a recurring international conference related to explosives trace detection research


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National Security Directorate