WELSH scientists have developed a sensor they call a nanodog which is capable of "sniffing" out microscopic low levels of explosives.
It is hoped the technology will be used in the fight against terrorism, with airports and governments already showing an interest.
The nanodog was developed by a team from the University of Wales, Bangor's school of chemistry, led by Professor Maher Kalaji.
The team developed the biosensor, patented the technology and are now working towards a prototype for commercialisation.
The nanodog uses nanotechnology to achieve its sensitivity and can detect explosives at a level in the one part per trillion range.
Nanotechnology means working on a tiny scale where scientists manipulate atoms to produce new products.
It promises to revolutionise our lives, with US experts estimating trillions of dollars will be made by 2015 from new nanotech-based materials and products.
Potential applications for the nanodog include screening airport passengers and luggage and working alongside sniffer dogs to reduce the threat of terrorism.
Prof Kalaji said the next step would involve product development and design work to make the entire device smaller and easily portable. It has been funded through a Welsh Assembly Government-backed scheme.
Prof Kalaji, the head of Bangor's school of chemistry, said, "It is an exciting project, and support from the Knowledge Exploitation Fund has been invaluable - without this resource we would not have been able to undertake proof of concept work, a vital early step toward product development."
Scientists in Wales have been at the forefront in the development of nanotechnology.
Researchers at Swansea University have been developing a revolutionary treatment for cancer involving an ultra-small "hunter sensor" which roams through the body seeking cancerous cells
The compact nature of the nanodog offers opportunity for passive sensing in areas with security requirements and will sense explosives as passengers walk though security portals without needing to intrude on their personal space as current technologies do.
The biosensor uses enzymes to detect explosives - even if they are concealed. The sensor will not only detect very small amounts of explosives but can also be developed to reveal what the explosive is.
The potential of the technology has been readily acknowledged and presentations and demonstrations have been made to security and defence agencies in the UK.
The biosensor has been tested to detect samples of explosives of interest to global security agencies and interest in the technology has been seen in the US and Europe from governmental and private sector organisations. Feedback from them was that while the technology is still young, it is extremely effective in response time and in detection levels.
The team behind the biosensor has also been invited to participate in a £10.4m EU project that starts in the autumn aimed at developing an integrated system for security in public places.
Bangor University will be a major partner in the development of sensors for explosives, with their biosensor a core technology in the project which brings together a consortium of 26 EU organisations including various industries, border and customs control agencies.
Andrew Davies, the Assembly Government's Minister for Enterprise, described the technology as "groundbreaking".
He said, "The research and development carried out by our universities is quite breathtaking - they provide a reservoir of untapped ideas and technologies ready for commercial exploitation. This latest project could have a huge impact in the fight against terrorism, and support from the Knowledge Exploitation Fund illustrates the importance of working with academia to provide funding and support enabling the commercialisation of research."
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