Published in the Advanced Materials journal on Tuesday, the study involves research that combines carbon nanotubes with delicate polymers which together form a thin film. This film is able to sense anything from toxic gasses such as chlorine to TNT and other explosives.
Ling Zang, senior author of the study as well as a professor of materials science and engineering explains that his team managed to obtain these results by manipulating the surface of the nanotubes. They added the polymer to the nanotube surface and transformed the material into a detection device for over a dozen explosives including homemade boms.
“The technology also can be applied to existing detectors or airport scanners used to sense explosives or chemical threats.”
As the scientists explain, the new material changes its electrical current whenever it detects an explosive, gas or illegal drug. The material can therefore be combined with sensors which are then able to pick up on the toxic substances accurately and fast.
Zang is confident that this new bomb detection technology could be used not only by military and police, but also by first responders and the entire public safety industry. The lead researcher has co-founded Vaporsens, a company aimed at building a prototype of a hand-held sensor by the end of 2014. By early next year, Zang wishes to produce the first commercial scanners.
The Utah-carbon-nanotube, as scientists call it, will not only be able to provide military combat forces, police units and security guards with the best of bomb-sniffing technology. These devices possess many other advantages: it has an increased sensitivity (as compared to any other similar technology), it operates faster, more accurately and last but not least, it is quite cost-effective.
The Department of Homeland Security contributed to the research project’s funding, together with the Department of Defense, the National Science Foundation and NASA.