Engineers are developing a handheld bomb and narcotics detector

5 Nov 2014

Ling Zang holds a prototype detector. Photo by Dan Hixon

A handheld detector that can sniff out explosives, deadly gases and illegal drugs in seconds is currently being developed by engineers at the University of Utah.

The device is being constructed with carbon nanotube, a strong, cylindrical material commonly used to make sports equipment. The research team used a polymer to break carbon nanotube bundles and then to deposit a tiny amount of the material on electrodes in a handheld scanner.

When the sensor detects molecules from explosives, hazardous chemicals or drugs such as methamphetamine, they tamper with the electrical current through the nanotube materials, alerting a user to the presence of any of those substances. Researchers say their device generates fewer false positives and is more cost effective than currently used detectors

“You can apply voltage between the electrodes and monitor the current through the nanotube,” says Ling Zang, a professor of materials science and engineering a the institute.

“If you have explosives or toxic chemicals caught by the nanotube, you will see an increase or decrease in the current.”

The university is currently building a prototype of the device and plan produce the first commercial scanners early next year. According to Zang, scanners with the new technology could be used by the military, police, first responders and private industry focused on public safety.

Dean Van Nguyen was a contributor to Silicon Republic