Researchers at UCSB, led by professors Carl Meinhart of mechanical engineering and Martin Moskovits of chemistry, have designed a detector that uses microfluidic nanotechnology to mimic the biological mechanism behind canine scent receptors. The device is both highly sensitive to trace amounts of certain vapor molecules, and able to tell a specific substance apart from similar molecules.
“Dogs are still the gold standard for scent detection of explosives. But like a person, a dog can have a good day or a bad day, get tired or distracted, 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.” prof.Meinhart 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. The device consists of two parts a microchannel which is like a tiny river that we use to trap the molecules and present them to the other part and a mini spectrometer powered by a laser that detects them. These microchannels are twenty times smaller than the thickness of a human hair.
The technology could be used to detect a very wide variety of molecules, not only explosives but could extend to certain disease diagnosis or narcotics detection.