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Posted: January 25, 2008
Nanotechnology-based scanners to speed airport checks
(Nanowerk News) The Telegraph in the UK is carrying a story on how new technology could help improve safety and efficiency at airports:
Trials are under way of new security screening measures that could dramatically enhance safety and reduce queues at airports.
A number of companies are developing "nanotechnology-based" scanners that improve the detection of explosives.
One of the new techniques, which is expected to become commercially available later this year, can screen one person per second, according to Erwan Normand, of Stirling-based Cascade Technologies, which has developed the technology.
Mr Normand said the technology works by using an infra-red laser light to seek out the chemical fingerprint of specific molecules of gases that are linked to explosives.
The screening equipment is easy to operate and has the support of the Home Office and the Ministry of Defence. It would sit alongside conventional security items, such as X-ray machines or metal detectors.
"It could be installed at the end of an X-ray machine, or by a portal that people walk through," said Mr Normand.
The use of nanotechnology in the laser makes the system far more selective and sensitive than traditional detection methods.
Richard Cooper, operations director of Cascade Technologies, compared its scanning capability to "detecting a drop of contaminated water in an Olympic swimming pool".
Traditional screening for explosives lacks the speed or sensitivity to screen all people and bags, and often gives rise to false alarms. After several false alarms, security officials have been known to bypass protocols to ease congestion.
A second screening system, being developed in Australia, uses electromagnetic waves to monitor molecules of chemicals, explosives and biological agents in the air.
"It will hopefully enable mass routine screening," said Dr Dmitri Gramotnev, of Queensland University of Technology.
Both companies are wary of declaring their inventions foolproof. "There are no bullet-proof technologies," said Dr Gramotnev. "It is always possible, in principle, to circumvent them - by developing new substances that may not be detectable by this new technology - but it would be very difficult to achieve in practice."