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I had a plane last week from Warsaw Modlin to Barcelona and I had one untypical procedure. It's my 14th flight and I never had something similar before. At the security scan right away after I crossed through metal detector the security guy came to me and scanned both my hands from both sides by some strange scanner. My hand were clear and I haven't anything on them, so I didn't get what he was searching for... Did he search for powder/radiation or something other? He didn't scan everyone there, but just a couple of persons.

So what he was searching for with that scanner?

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    Did they take a swab of your hands? If so, duplicate of travel.stackexchange.com/questions/62561/… – CMaster Jun 6 '16 at 10:04
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    Nope, they didn't swab them. They just moved some scanner over my hands with direct contact to my hands from both sides. The scanner looked like metal/plastic device – Sergey Litvinov Jun 6 '16 at 10:26
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    It's probably the same thing, but I don't know that to answer for sure. You say it was touching your hands? What did it feel like (metal surfaces, brushes, holes/solid etc?) – CMaster Jun 6 '16 at 10:28
  • As I remember on touch it had solid plastic surface, but I might be wrong as it was fast and I might not remember all details – Sergey Litvinov Jun 6 '16 at 10:36
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    @SergeyLitvinov Can you confirm whether the device looked like the pictures Joe Blow posted above? – Zach Lipton Jun 12 '16 at 17:35
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+100

It's just a swab which tests for traces of explosives.

They are completely commonplace.

You see them in airports everywhere.

(If OP has never been "swabbed" before: that's just a strange coincidence. They're as commonplace as scanners.)

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Some are simply a plastic stick, with a throw-away swab on the end. The throw-away swab simply looks like a piece of tape.

Other devices are fixed, and can be used more than once.

US TSA explanation. CNN article.

Typical manufacturer.

Another manufacturer.

(All these systems are just profit centers, set up by companies with government lobbying power, to make sales.) (I'm not saying there isn't coincidental societal advantage, but that's the reason the systems exist: lobbying from military-industrial industries.)

In answer to one of your questions, these things search for molecules:

There is utterly no connection, in any way, to "radiation".

Again, they literally just "smell" for explosives - things like "dynamite", "TNT", "gunpowder" and so on.

(No connection whatsoever to "radiation" - with "radiation" you're thinking of like "nuclear weapons". Totally unrelated.)

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    Aren't those images of a plastic wand that holds a small piece of material that is used for the "swabbing", which is then put inside a much larger machine (maybe a cubic foot in size) that performs the actual detection process? This is certainly what I've experienced at various airports when my hands (and recently at Dubai airport, my electrical items) have been checked like this. I have verified that this was the case on a few occasions by asking (politely!) the officer who was doing the swabbing. – Richard Everett Jun 14 '16 at 12:33
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    Hi Richard, sure, that's exactly correct. (I posted an image of that happening - it's not clear?! :) ) But note, there are nowadays many major varieties... (a) swab on stick of plastic, swab goes in incredibly expensive machine. (b) swab, on, extremely expensive hand-held machine. (c) staggeringly expensive hand-held machine which needs no swabs at all. (d) expensive needs-no-swabs handheld, which, works in conjunction with an extremely expensive central unit. You see all these varieties commonly. It's almost certain there are now also just "plein air" human-sniffers. – Fattie Jun 14 '16 at 12:42
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    A few (5 or more I think) years ago at airport security I was also asked to stand in a large clear cylindrical chamber, with doors that closed behind me. A whoosh of air went up past me and then doors in front of me opened up and I was free to go. I was told on that occasion that this device was also sniffing for explosives. – Richard Everett Jun 14 '16 at 13:13
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    Hi @RichardEverett, yeah those are also commonplace. No big deal. – Fattie Jul 11 '17 at 11:20
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The way these systems work is that they take a sample of particles that are in contact with your skin. The device is then inserted into a scanner, which is programmed to scan for chemical signatures for certain substances.

These substances can be either explosive material (like gunpowder, tnt, etc.) or drugs.

These same devices are also used on luggage for the same reason.

For those devices that have a tape or cloth attachment, this attachment is actually superheated in the device.

This device is a portable version of the "puffer machine" installed at some major airports where you stand in a chamber and some air is circulated. This air picks up any molecules on your person, and is then analyzed for trace residue.

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The scan is looking for traces of explosives, gun powder and other incendiary chemicals.

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    Do you have any proof for that? Like a link to an official site where they explain or personal experience of someone who did those scans? – Willeke Jun 12 '16 at 10:50
  • This answer is perfectly correct. For something so commonplace and obvious, I'm not sure how you could "prove" it, you know?! – Fattie Jun 14 '16 at 12:44
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    @JoeBlow References. – JoErNanO Jun 14 '16 at 13:05

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