Magazine article Law & Order

Electronic "Dogs" Sniff out Bombs, Drugs

Magazine article Law & Order

Electronic "Dogs" Sniff out Bombs, Drugs

Article excerpt

Specially trained dogs can't be beat when it comes to sniffing out very faint odors from explosives, narcotics, and other contraband at airports, schools and border crossings. However, dogs have to be fed and cared for-and because they get tired they usually cannot work reliably for more than 30 or 40 minutes without a rest.

However, researchers at the Department of Energy's Sandia National Laboratory in Albuquerque, N.M., have developed small electronic sniffers that can work indefinitely without resting, feeding, or requiring the logistics associated with canine sniffers.

While these electronic detectors may never duplicate the sensitivity of a dog's nose, they come pretty close.

One of the new sniffers is a miniaturized version of a walk-through portal Sandia developed for the Federal Aviation Administration for detecting explosives at airports. The portal blows a puff of air over airline passengers and then samples the airflow for minute levels of explosives. The heart of the system is the pre-concentrator that draws in large volumes of air, collects heavy organic compounds from the air stream onto a filter, then vaporizes these organics into a smaller parcel of air that is delivered to and analyzed by a commercial explosives detector.

Sandia refined and miniaturized the chemical pre-concentrator technology used in the portal so it can be incorporated in low cost, sensitive and fast portable detection tools. The trick that allowed miniaturization involves drawing greater volumes of air past the filter. …

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