Scientists at the University of California, Santa Barbara, said such highly sensitive devices that sniff out vapors from explosives and other substances could become as commonplace as smoke detectors in public places.
Led by UCSB scientists Carl Meinhart and Martin Moskovits, the research team designed a detector that uses microfluidic nanotechnology to mimic the biological mechanism behind canine scent receptors.
"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," Meinhart said in a UCSB release Tuesday.
A microscale channel of liquid absorbs and concentrates molecules, and once absorbed into the microchannel they interact with nanoparticles that amplify their spectral signature when excited by laser light.
A computer database of spectral signatures identifies what kind of molecule has been captured, the researchers said.
"The device is capable of real-time detection and identification of certain types of molecules at concentrations of 1 ppb [part per billion] or below," researcher Brian Piorek, a former mechanical engineering doctoral student in Meinhart's laboratory, said.
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