Los Alamos National Laboratory

Los Alamos National Laboratory

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Explosive Results

Scientists at Los Alamos are solving national security challenges, from the threat of toothpaste-tube bombs on airliners to ensuring the safety of our nuclear stockpile.
April 1, 2016
Explosive Results

To test whether a travel-toothpaste-tube-sized bomb could bring down an airliner, Los Alamos scientists tried to blow a hole through half-inch-thick aircraft-grade aluminum using an explosive they’d developed for another purpose. As seen by the approximately 5-inch hole in this half-inch-thick blast plate (pictured), their efforts were successful. (Photo: Los Alamos)

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Los Alamos has more scientists studying things that go kaboom! than anyplace in America and quite possibly the world.

In February 2014, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) got wind of a potential new bomb threat: explosives packed into a toothpaste tube that a terrorist planned to smuggle onto an airplane headed for the Winter Olympics at Sochi, Russia.

Could someone make such a small bomb and blow an airliner full of passengers out of the sky?

With no time to waste, scientists in the Explosive Science and Shock Physics division at Los Alamos National Laboratory leapt into action. In approximately 24 hours they tested an explosive they developed and called back with the answer: Yes, a toothpaste bomb was possible—“very possible,” in the words of Lab explosives researcher Bryce Tappan, who responded to the inquiry. And it could bring down an airliner.  

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