New Sensor Sniffs Out Explosives Even Better than Dogs
Dogs, with their amazingly keen noses, have so far proven themselves as the best way to detect explosives, out-sniffing the best that technology has had to offer.
Now a research team claims to have developed a powerful electronic sensor that can out-sniff even a champion sniffer canine.
Based on nanotechnology advances, the new sensor is small, portable, and capable of detecting numerous types of explosives, including those used in the recent Yemeni cargo plane bomb threats. The sensor is especially effective at picking up whiffs of TNT.
Existing methods and devices used to trace explosives have the drawbacks of high cost, lengthy decoding times, large size and a need for expert analyses.
"There is a need for a small, inexpensive, handheld instrument capable of detecting explosives quickly, reliably and efficiently," said lead researcher Fernando Patolsky of Tel Aviv University.
The device is made from an array of silicon nanowires coated with a compound that binds to explosives to form an electronic device – a nanotransistor.
And unlike other explosives sensors, it enables definitive identification of the type explosive that it has detected. To date, the device has not had a single detection error.
Similar sensors may be used to detect not only explosives, but also biological toxins and threats, such as anthrax, cholera or botulinum. Looking beyond national security, the sensor's developers believe it offers attractive applications in the medical field as well.