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Portable Explosives Sensor Using Silicon Nanowires

A Tel Aviv University research team has developed a powerful electronic sensor to detect different types of explosives. Existing methods used for the detection of explosives, be it champion sniffer dogs or any other electronic devices, are high cost, have lengthy decoding time, are cumbersome and require an expert for analysis. "There is a need for a small, inexpensive, handheld instrument capable of detecting explosives quickly, reliably and efficiently," said lead researcher Fernando Patolsky of Tel Aviv University.

This newly developed device comprises of an array of silicon nanowires, coated with a compound that binds to explosives to form an electronic device -- a nanotransistor, equipped with 200 individual sensors working in harmony to detect any type of explosive with an unprecedented degree of reliability, efficiency and speed.

The scientists have also worked to provide this sensor with a major advantage – portability; it can be carried from place to place by hand. It is also capable of detecting explosives from a distance. It can be mounted on a wall, and need not be brought in contact with the item being checked. Unlike conventional explosives sensors, it enables definitive identification of the explosive that it has detected. To date not a single detection error by this device the device is reported. The sensor is especially effective at picking up whiffs of TNT.

Similar sensors may be used to detect not only explosives, but also biological toxins and threats, such as anthrax, cholera or botulinum. Looking beyond national security, the sensor's developers believe it offers attractive applications in the medical field as well.

With scientific findings on it published recently in the prestigious Angewandte Chemie, the new device is attracting considerable attention from security companies and fellow scientists.

It is more sensitive and reliable at detecting explosives than any sniffer dog, says its lead researcher Prof. Fernando Patolsky of Tel Aviv University's Raymond and Beverly Sackler School of Chemistry(who recently returned to Israel from Harvard University, the research team is considered to be one of the world's leaders in developing nano-based sensors that can detect chemical and biological molecules).

Security companies are taking note. The American company Nanergy Inc. has developed a prototype based on the patent, and is already in contact with potential partners to develop explosives sensors for the commercial market.


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