Out-sniffing bomb-sniffing dogs

Nov 10, 2010
This is Tel Aviv University's explosive-detecting sensor. Credit: AFTAU

Dogs have long been called man's best bomb detector -- until now.

A Tel Aviv University scientist leads a research team that has developed a powerful to detect multiple kinds of explosives –– including those used in the recent Yemeni bomb threat. Based on nanotechnology advances, the new sensor is small, portable, and is more sensitive and reliable at detecting explosives than any sniffer dog, says its lead researcher Prof. Fernando Patolsky of Tel Aviv University's Raymond and Beverly Sackler School of Chemistry.

With scientific findings on it published recently in the prestigious , the new device is attracting considerable attention from security companies and fellow scientists.

Capable of detecting numerous types of explosives, Prof. Patolsky says the sensor is especially effective at detecting TNT. Existing methods and devices used to trace the explosive have the drawbacks of high cost, lengthy decoding times, 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," says Patolsky.

According to the researchers, this new sensor can out-sniff even a champion sniffer canine.

Portable and hidden from view

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. In order to enhance the chips' sensitivity even further, the scientists developed each one with 200 individual that work in harmony to detect different kinds of explosives with an unprecedented degree of reliability, efficiency and speed.

One major advantage of the new sensor is its portability − it can be carried from place to place by hand. It is also capable of detecting explosives at a distance. It can be mounted on a wall, with no need to bring it into contact with the item being checked. And unlike other explosives sensors, it enables definitive identification of the explosive that it has detected. To date. the device has not had a single detection error.

Security companies are taking note. The American company Nanergy Inc. has developed a prototype based on the patent, and is already in contact with potential partners to develop explosives sensors for the commercial market.

Headed by Prof. Patolsky, who recently returned to Israel from Harvard University, the research team is considered to be one of the world's leaders in developing nano-based sensors that can detect chemical and biological molecules.

Such 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 offers attractive applications in the medical field as well.

Explore further: Bullet 'fingerprints' to help solve crimes

Related Stories

Israeli scientists develop nano explosive sniffer

Nov 02, 2010

Israeli scientists have developed a powerful explosives sensor more sensitive than a sniffer dog's nose, which they say would have made it easier to detect cargo bombs like those sent last week.

New method for detecting explosives

Mar 13, 2009

A group of researchers in Tennessee and Denmark has discovered a way to sensitively detect explosives based on the physical properties of their vapors. Their technology, which is currently being developed into prototype devices ...

UW Invention Targets Terrorist Weapons

Aug 23, 2006

University of Wyoming researchers have developed and patented a technology that can rapidly detect explosives such as the liquid compounds that were part of a recently-thwarted plot to detonate bombs on as many as 10 U.S.-bound ...

Plastic laser detects tiny amounts of explosives

Jun 08, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Detecting hidden explosives is a difficult task but now researchers in the UK have developed a completely new way of detecting them, with a laser sensor capable of detecting molecules of explosives ...

Towards better explosives detectors

Oct 21, 2010

Over the past decade, Christine Mahoney and a team of scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Maryland have been working to stop the threat of terrorist-based attacks in the form of explosives ...

Recommended for you

Free pores for molecule transport

13 hours ago

Metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) can take up gases similar to a sponge that soaks up liquids. Hence, these highly porous materials are suited for storing hydrogen or greenhouse gases. However, loading of many ...

User comments : 0