New electronic sensor  (Source:
Over 200 sensors make this device ultra-sensitive, and its portability makes it easier to use

A researcher from Tel Aviv University has created a small, portable electronic sensor that is capable of detecting several types of explosives. 

Fernando Patolsky, lead researcher and a professor at Tel Aviv University's Raymond and Beverly Sackler School of Chemistry, has designed a powerful and sensitive electronic sensor that can detect multiple kinds of explosives.

Previous explosive-detecting devices have proven to be problematic because they're large, expensive, require expert analysis and have lengthy decoding times. These negative aspects make the devices difficult for every day use. 

But now, Patolsky developed an inexpensive, lightweight, portable instrument capable of detecting explosives quickly and efficiently without requiring an expert to read it. The electronic sensor is made from an array of silicon nanowires that are coated with a compound that bonds to explosives forming a nanotransistor. Approximately 200 sensors, which detect different types of explosives, were developed to make the electronic sensor much more sensitive than previous devices. 

In fact, this electronic sensor is capable of detecting explosives from a distance. Its portability allows it to be mounted on walls or at any other distance, out of sight of the people or items being checked for explosives. The device then provides "definitive identification" of any explosive that is detected. 

So far, the electronic sensor has not had any detection errors and Patolsky has noted that this device can "out-sniff" a canine who is trained to perform the same task. Security companies have began to notice how efficient the device is, and have already developed a prototype based on the patent. Nanergy Inc., an American thin film technology company and developer of the prototype, is looking to contact potential partners in order to sell these sensors commercially. 

"There is a need for a small, inexpensive, handheld instrument capable of detecting explosives quickly, reliably and efficiently," said Patolsky. 

The next step is to use these types of sensors to also detect biological threats and toxins such as cholera, botulinum and anthrax. 

This study was published in Angewandte Chemie.

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