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Artificial sniffer using linear ion trap technology

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Detecting illegal substances gets easier

An advanced novel device to detect illicit substances such as explosives and drugs can significantly enhance and speed up security at border controls and transport hubs.

Industrial Technologies

As crime and terrorism continue to threaten the vision of a peaceful world, advances in technology are bringing solutions to discourage and pre-empt menacing events. One positive development in this respect is the prospect of a universal gas sensor, or artificial sniffer, to detect a variety of substances from drugs to explosives. The EU-funded project 'Artificial sniffer using linear ion trap technology' (SNIFFLES) is working on such a promising device. Aiming to complement sniffer dogs in their work, the technology is being designed to detect people carrying harmful substances, but also weapons and drugs. SNIFFLES is exploiting linear ion trap mass spectrometry to achieve its aims, based on the device's sophisticated ability to identify single atoms and complex molecules. The flexible user-friendly device can even detect trace levels below parts per million, boasting as well a mass range larger than other mass spectrometry solutions currently on the market. It can take a 'fingerprint' of a substance and compare it with an online database to immediately identify it. Already, the team has outlined the procedure and design, including gas load evaluation of the required vacuum system and sensor performance metrics. It built the linear ion trap, electronic control unit and inlet device, in addition to developing the required software. This was followed by experiments to evaluate vapour ionisation, a crucial part of the process. Once commercialised, the device could be used in a myriad of ways, such as at border checks to prevent transport of illegal substances, including biological and chemical warfare agents. This quick and affordable solution could also be used to streamline passenger traffic by quickly scanning for illegal substances, offering low alarm rates and reducing queues. Lastly, it promises to increase security by reducing human error, representing a less invasive and questionable method to detect illicit substances compared to other solutions.


Illegal substances, explosives, drugs, border controls, transport hubs, crime, terrorism, universal gas sensor, artificial sniffer, linear ion trap, weapons, mass spectrometry, gas load, vapour ionisation, chemical warfare, passenger traffic

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