Chemistry student investigates novel hydrogen peroxide detection method Meet Samantha Bell

Samantha Bell went to a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) high school, where she developed an early love for chemistry. Today, Bell is in her final year at Stockton University earning a bachelor of science degree in chemistry. She joined the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Transportation Security Laboratory (TSL) program after being encouraged by a friend to apply. Bell is part of the Energetic Materials Research Laboratory (EMRL) team under the mentorship of Dr. Benjamin Wilkins, the EMRL lead.

Hydrogen peroxide is a common cleaner, and as a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Transportation Security Laboratory (TSL) intern, Samantha Bell is looking for new ways to quantitate it in liquid mixtures. (Photo Credit: Amanda Werner, William J. Hughes Technical Center)

The core mission of TSL is to enhance homeland security by performing research, development and validation of solutions to detect and mitigate the threat of improvised explosive devices. TSL offers the homeland security community and transportation security partners the ability to advance detection technology from conception to deployment through applied research, test and evaluation, assessment and certification.

Bell’s research is taking a closer look at hydrogen peroxide, a common chemical used for cleaning in the home and in larger quantities for industrial usage. Specifically, she is studying novel ways to measure the concentration of hydrogen peroxide in various liquid mixtures. Based on preliminary data, nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) has proven to be an effective way to determine the amount of hydrogen peroxide in a liquid, although there is still much more testing to do. Bell presented her research at an intern presentation session.

“The purpose of my research is to assist the EMRL in developing a method to quality control hydrogen peroxide using NMR,” explained Bell. “This research will pave the way to investigate quantitating material in real time.”

“A typical day is exciting,” said Bell, spending a few hours in the laboratory every day and afterwards analyzing data. Her favorite part is meeting new scientists and gaining valuable research experience. Additionally, she’s developed useful programming, computational chemistry and NMR skills. After her appointment ends, Bell plans to attend graduate school for her doctorate degree in analytical chemistry. She’s hoping her future research can focus on helping the environment.

Until then, Bell recommends the TSL program. “This program helped me prepare for graduate school and learn a lot about myself as a scientist. It taught me how to have independence, while learning from the best in the field. It’s my first taste of real-world experience as a chemist.”

The DHS TSL Program is funded by DHS and administered through the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE). ORISE is managed for DOE by Oak Ridge Associated Universities.