Nothing goes undetected

Nano-sized Tess smells explosives better than a dog

All over the world, security forces depend on sophisticated equipment, trained personnel, and trained dogs in order to safeguard airports and other public places against the attacks of terrorists. A new electronic chip with nano–sized chemical sensors is about to make their job a lot easier.

This groundbreaking sensor that has been inspired by nanotechnology and devised by Professor Fernando Patolsky of Tel Aviv University’s School of Chemistry and Centre for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology and developed by a company called Tracense, can pick up the scent molecules of various explosives better than a dog.

Explosive sensors that exist today are bulky, expensive, and require expert interpretation in the findings. But the new sensor is mobile, inexpensive, and identifies explosives in real time with great accuracy. It can detect explosives in the air at a concentration as low as a few molecules per 1,000 trillion.

Using a single tiny chip that is made of hundreds of super sensitive sensors, Tess can detect ultra low traces of extremely volatile explosives in air. It can also fingerprint and differentiate materials from other non–hazardous stuff.

It can detect small molecular species in air (in real time) to concentrations of parts per quadrillion that’s four to five times more sensitive than any existing technological method and two to three times more sensitive than a dog’s nose.

It is sensitive enough to detect improvised explosives like TATP (triacetone triperoxide) that is used in suicide bombing attacks all over the world.

The clusters of nano-sized transistors that have been used in this detector are extremely sensitive to chemicals that cause changes in the electrical conductance of the sensors on surface contact.

When a single molecule of an explosive comes in touch with a sensor, it binds with it and initiates a rapid and accurate mathematical analysis of the material.

Animals are affected by a number of factors — weather, mood, working hours, state of health, the oversaturation of their olfactory systems, and other things.

Also, it is not possible for them to tell us what they smell. This makes automatic sensing systems smarter than dogs and work at least as well as, or even better than, nature.

This trace detector can identify many different types of explosives several metres from the source in real time. It has been tested on explosives like TNT, RDX, and HMX, which are used in commercial blasting and military applications. The makers have also tested it for TATP and HMTD. The last two are used extensively in homemade bombs and are very difficult to detect using existing technology.

This breakthrough has the potential of changing the way hazardous materials are detected and will provide people with more security.

When tiny amounts of explosives in the air can be detected faster, there’s hope that the world will be a lot safer.

Tracense has invested more than $10 million in research and development of Tess since 2007 and should go to the market sometime this year. Professor Patolsky, along with his team of researchers, has been conducting extensive tests on the prototype of this device.

Earlier published on The Hindu

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