Nanotechnology Device Mimics Dog's Nose To Detect Explosives

Patrick Frye

Santa Barbara, CA - A new nanotechnology device mimics a dog's nose so closely that it can detect explosives and other substances. According to ScienceDaily, their goal is to make "portable, accurate, and highly sensitive" explosive-sniffing devices that "could become as commonplace as smoke detectors in public places."

"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 developing their nanotechnology is in the merging of principles from mechanical engineering and chemistry in a collaboration made possible by UCSB's Institute for Collaborative Biotechnologies. "Our research project not only brings different disciplines together to develop something new," Meinhart said, "but it also creates jobs for the local community and hopefully benefits society in general."

Results published in Analytical Chemistry show that their device can detect the vapor emanating from TNT-based explosives, which contains an airborne molecules called 2,4-dinitrotoluene. The human nose cannot detect such small amounts, but "sniffer" dogs have long been used to discover explosives and other substances. Their technology is an example of biomimetics, meaning that their ideas were inspired by the efficient biological design of the canine olfactory mucus layer, which absorbs and then concentrates airborne molecules into receptors.

"The device is capable of real-time detection and identification of certain types of molecules at concentrations of 1 ppb or below. Its specificity and sensitivity are unparalleled," said Dr. Brian Piorek, former mechanical engineering doctoral student in Meinhart's laboratory and Chief Scientist at Santa Barbara-based SpectraFluidics.

Explosives sniffing dogs are unlikely to be gone any time soon. This nanotechnology has not been field-tested but it's sure to be featured in the future in an airport near you.