The detector has been designed by technologists based at the University of Utah and it takes the form of a handheld sensor. The device can also be used for the detection of explosives, noxious gases, and narcotics.
The device takes the form of a carbon nanotube. A carbon nanotube is a tube-shaped material, made of carbon, having a diameter measuring on the nanometer scale
. The tube is cylindrical in shape and it is produced from material that is a hexagonal array of carbon atoms compressed into a tube. The carbon material confers high strength and powerful electrical conductivity to the device.
Key to developing the device
was finding a means to deconstruct bundles of the carbon nanotubes with a polymer and then deposit a microscopic amount onto electrodes. When the microscopic sensor detects molecules from an explosive, gas or drugs, the substances alter the electrical current through the nanotube materials, signaling the presence of any of those substances. A certain rise or fall in the current signals the presence of a given substance.
The device is more sensitive due to the fact that all carbon atoms in the nanotube are exposed to air, which means that each part is susceptible to whatever is being detected. The result is also produced relatively quickly.
The researchers have formed a company called Vaporsens and they aim to produce the first commercial scanners early into 2015. The scanner swill be made available to police forces and to the armed forces.
Details of the device are shortly to be published in
the journal Advanced Materials