You see them at various points of transportation – airports, train stations and subways. The bomb sniffing dog has become synonymous with anti-terror security. The dogs may be fighting for a bit of job security due to a UC Berkeley invention.

The bomb detecting laser is being developed by researchers there that could complement or render the dogs obsolete. The tech behind the laser is a highly sensitive plasmon sensor than can detect minute levels of explosions. So much for the underwear bombs Al-Qaeda in Yemen.

Xiang Zhang, a professor of mechanical engineering talked about the technology. “Optical explosive sensors are very sensitive and compact. The ability to magnify such a small trace of an explosive to create a detectable signal is a major development in plasmon sensor technology, which is one of the most powerful tools we have today.”

Testing the device involved using commonly used explosives, including ammonium nitrate, DNT and nitrobenzene. How sensitive did the device turn out to be? It detected airborne explosive chemicals at concentrations of 0.67 parts per billion. They need this at airports quickly. Hard to imagine a would-be bomber sneaking past something that sensitive. Just so long as the TSA keeps it plugged in.

The goal is to be able to detect hard-to-detect explosives. As terror groups adapt, so must the security apparatus of the western countries.

“The difference in intensity is similar to going from a light bulb for a table lamp to a laser pointer,” Zhang said. “We create a sharper signal, which makes it easier to detect even smaller changes for tiny traces of explosives in the air.”

With the device being compact, it’s hard to imagine either this or something similar not being used in airports and other high value targets in the near future. Finally, security that doesn’t involve a body cavity search or the NSA picking up you play Clash of Clans a little too much.


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