Wednesday, 5 December 2012


Nanotech Device Mimics Dog's Nose to Detect Explosives

Inspired by the biology of canine scent receptors, UC Santa Barbara scientists develop a chip capable of quickly identifying trace amounts of vapor molecules

Concept illustration of the microscale free-surface microfluidic channel as it concentrates vapor molecules that bind to nanoparticles inside a chamber. A laser beam detects the nanoparticles, which amplify a spectral signature of the detected molecules. (Click for larger image)
(Santa Barbara, CA —) Portable, accurate, and highly sensitive devices that sniff out vapors from explosives and other substances could become as commonplace as smoke detectors in public places, thanks to researchers at University of California, Santa Barbara.

Researchers at UCSB, led by professors Carl Meinhart of mechanical engineering and Martin Moskovits of chemistry, have designed a detector that uses microfluidic nanotechnology to mimic the biological mechanism behind canine scent receptors. The device is both highly sensitive to trace amounts of certain vapor molecules, and able to tell a specific substance apart from similar molecules.

“Dogs are still the gold standard for scent detection of explosives. But like a person, a dog can have a good day or a bad day, get tired or distracted,” said Meinhart. “We have developed a device with the same or better sensitivity as a dog’s nose that feeds into a computer to report exactly what kind of molecule it’s detecting.” The key to their technology, explained Meinhart, is in the merging of principles from mechanical engineering and chemistry in a collaboration made possible by UCSB’s Institute for Collaborative Biotechnologies .
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