Handheld scanner to sniff out explosives soon

New York: Engineers from the University of Utah have developed a new type of fibre material for a handheld scanner that can detect small traces of fuel leaks and even fuel-based explosives.

It is a valuable advancement that can be an early-warning signal for leaks in an oil pipeline, an airliner, or for locating explosives deployed by terrorists.

Alkane fuel is a key ingredient in combustible material such as gasoline, airplane fuel, oil — even a homemade bomb.

Yet, it’s difficult to detect and there are no portable scanners available that can sniff out the odourless and colourless vapor.

The prototype of the handheld detector has an array of 16 sensor materials that will be able to identify a broad range of chemicals including explosives.

The team led by professor Ling Zang developed a type of fibre composite that involves two nanofibres transferring electrons from one to the other.

“These are two materials that interact well together by having electrons transferring from one to another,” added Ben Bunes, postdoctoral fellow, in a paper published in the American Chemical Society’s journal, ACS Sensors.

This new composite material will be incorporated into the sensor array to include the detection of alkanes.

The scanner will be designed to locate the presence of explosives such as bombs at airports or in other buildings.

Many explosives, such as the bomb used in the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, use fuel oils like diesel as one of its major components. These fuel oils are forms of alkane.

The device is set to be introduced in the market in about a year-and-a-half time.

The research was funded by the Department of Homeland Security, National Science Foundation and NASA.