Devices Go Nose to Nose with Bomb-sniffer DogsOct 16, 2012
By Henry Fountain
|A sliver of silicon is covered with titanium nanotubes to better detect explosives molecules. Courtesy of Fabien Schnell/CNRS Photothèque
Denis Spitzer wants to beat dogs at their own game.
At a binational armaments and security research center in eastern France, Dr. Spitzer and his colleagues are working on a sensor to detect vapors of TNT and other explosives in very faint amounts, as might emanate from a bomb being smuggled through airport security. Using microscopic slivers of silicon covered with forests of even smaller tubes of titanium oxide, they aim to create a device that could supplement, perhaps even supplant, the best mobile bomb detector in the business: the sniffer dog.
But emulating the nose and brain of a trained dog is a formidable task. A bomb-sniffing device must be extremely sensitive, able to develop a signal from a relative handful of molecules. And it must be highly selective, able to distinguish an explosive from the “noise” of other compounds.
While researchers like Dr. Spitzer are making progress — and there are some vapor detectors on the market — when it comes to sensitivity and selectivity, dogs still reign supreme.
Source: The New York Times