This is the first interview in our series featuring the eight Opioid Detection Challenge finalists. We’re introducing each finalist and learning more about how their novel detection plans could quickly and accurately detect illicit opioids in parcels, without disrupting the flow of mail. The finalists are currently participating in a 14-week accelerator to develop their plans into testable prototypes. 

We spoke with Joost van de Griendt from the Dynaxion team. Their atomic-level drug detection solution uses high-frequency radio waves in a particle accelerator technology developed by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (known as CERN). As neutrons and gamma rays pass through parcels, the solution analyzes the energy spectra produced. 

What inspired you to enter the Opioid Detection Challenge?
We want to tackle the global challenge of security in trade and travel from drugs and explosives. Our solution can distinguish between specific materials, which triggered us to enter the Opioid Detection Challenge. It will be a great opportunity for us to ensure our technology integrates easily into the current and future practices of the postal, transport, and security agencies in the United States of America.

What sets your opioid detection technology apart from existing solutions?
The spectra obtained from our machine provide us with a high level of specificity as to the items contained, with the aim of bringing false positives and negatives to zero. Additionally, the Dynaxion scanner uses neutrons that are highly penetrative, giving us great depth into the parcel regardless of what materials have been used to conceal the goods inside.

What’s the one thing you wish people knew about the role of your solution in the postal inspection process?
That our technology — as well as being able to establish the contents of the package, from drugs to explosives — will be noninvasive and fully automated. This will remove the human factor in the screening process and help in limiting the exposure to illicit substances of those working in security facilities.

What’s your primary focus during the 14-week prototyping accelerator as you advance your solution?
We have two foci and we think they complement each other. One focus is to show how specific our method will be — to be able to state which parcels are ‘normal’’ and to label those containing different opioids. We also want to get a better understanding of the issues that the Department of Homeland Security faces and how we can optimize our solution to help them with the detection of opioids.

Read about the other finalists’ detection solutions and subscribe to the Challenge newsletter to read more interviews with finalist teams.