Keep Calm And Hold On To The Carry-On: Israeli Nano-Sensor Can Sniff Out Explosives From 16 Feet Away

By Maya Yarowsky, NoCamels June 30, 2014 Comments

Your bags are packed and you’re ready to go, but there is just one thing standing in the way of your vacation: never-ending security lines. After you’ve had your passport checked, removed your shoes, put all of your belongings in separate bins, walked through the X-ray scanner and had a dog sniff out your bags, it’s no surprise if you feel like your privacy is flying away as well.

Now a team of university researchers has created a nanotechnology-based bomb detection chip that could make even the most rigid security inspections dramatically shorter, about five seconds to be exact.

The chip that goes the distance, and quickly

The TESS prototype, created by Tel Aviv University researchers and company Tracense, uses nano-sensors that can sniff out explosive, biological or chemical material, up to a few molecules per 1,000 trillion in the air and at about 16 feet away. The nano-sized sensors can detect which kinds of molecules the chip is “smelling” and analyzes them to see if they belong to known types of dangerous materials.

While there are existing methods to analyze the molecular composition of what’s in your suitcase, these methods usually involve bulky materials, specially trained samplers, and can only sniff out certain kinds of explosive materials. Tracense’s chip beats the existing technology at its own game by smelling out TNT, RCX and HMX, which are chemicals usually used commercially and militarily, as well as TATP and HMTD, harder-to-detect explosives often used to in homemade expolosive devices. During the product trials, the team also discovered that the chip could sniff out explosive material in stuffy environments, even those “highly contaminated” by cigarette smoke, in just five seconds.

Staying safe while maintaining your personal space

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“Different explosive species display a distinctive pattern of interaction with the nanosensing array, thus allowing for a sample and straightforward identification of the molecule under test,” explained research team member Prof. Fernando Patolsky in the journal “Nature Communications.” The super sensitivity of the nanosensors will potentially allow security and police authorities to perform advanced bomb checks from a far, staying out of your precious personal space in the airport and beyond.

While the Tracense nano-sensor bomb detector is still in Beta-stage development, it is still uncertain how the final product will look or even function. However, with Tracense investing over $10 million in the product since 2007 and Israeli knack for creating cutting-edge security tech, it’s safe to say the Tracense chip has a good chance to sniff its way to our airports soon.

Photos: A. Currell/ Tracense

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