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U of U Engineer Develops Better Bomb Sniffer

Photo Credit: Dan Hixon, University of Utah College of Engineering
Ling Zang, a University of Utah professor of materials science and engineering, holds a prototype detector that uses a new type of carbon nanotube material for use in handheld scanners to detect explosives, toxic chemicals and illegal drugs.

University of Utah engineers have developed a better a better bomb sniffer, that they hope will soon be in the hands of public safety officials.

University of Utah professor Ling Zang and his team of researchers have developed a new way to modify microscopic carbon nanotubes that gives them the ability to quickly detect explosives, deadly gases, and drugs. They’ve accomplished this by wrapping the nanotubes with a polymer that, in concert with the nanotube, can be tuned to react to different molecules. Zang says they’re now working on making this technology available in the form of a handheld detector that could potentially be used by Homeland Security and the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol.

“The motivation behind this kind of research is very simple. We’re trying to come up with something easy to use, low-cost, smaller, and lighter which can be carried in the pocket.”

Zang says this new device is better than current detectors because it’s faster, more accurate, and more cost-effective. He says they will likely have a prototype ready by the end of the year and production scanners ready soon after. The Department of Homeland Security, Department of Defense, the National Science Foundation, and NASA helped fund the study. 

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