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Home > News > Building miniature 'noses' to sniff explosives

October 19th, 2007

Building miniature 'noses' to sniff explosives

It's no secret that a dog's nose is hundreds of times more sensitive than our own olfactory systems. For this reason, humans have long relied upon their four-legged friends to track and detect odors for security, sustenance and survival.

While artificial "noses" have been built to sense malicious chemicals and substances, such as explosives, none has proven quite up to snuff with the canines sniffer in terms of accuracy or ability.

In pursuit of that interminable nose, researchers have turned to nanoscience. They have uncovered ways to detect molecules using tiny sensors called microcantilevers.

Made of silicon, microcantilevers look like miniature diving boards that are 100 microns long, one micron thick and 20 microns wide, says Thomas Thundat, senior scientist at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory who is credited with discovering how the devices can detect chemicals. Up to 40 microcantilevers can fit on a computer chip 3 mm across - smaller than the average pinkie fingernail.


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