Laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS) is examined as a potential method for detecting airborne biological agents. A spectrally broadband LIBS system was used for laboratory measurements on some common biological agent simulants. These measurements were compared to those of common, naturally occurring biological aerosol components (pollen and fungal spores) to determine the potential of LIBS for discriminating biological agents from natural background aerosols. A principal components analysis illustrates that linear combinations of the detected atomic lines, which are present in different ratios in each of the samples tested, can be used to discriminate biological agent simulants from other biological matter. A more sensitive, narrowband LIBS instrument was used to demonstrate the detection of single simulant (Bg) particles in the size range 1-5 μm. Ca, Mg, and Na, which are present in varying concentrations between 0.3 and 11% (by mass) in the Bg particles, were observed in single particles using LIBS.

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