Washington, Mar 19 : Locating homemade bombs may soon become easier thanks to chemists and physicists at the University of California, San Diego who have developed a tiny, inexpensive sensor chip that can detect trace amounts of hydrogen peroxide, a chemical used such explosives.
The sensor is capable of sniffing out hydrogen peroxide vapour in the parts-per-billion range from peroxide-based explosives.
"The detection capability of this tiny electronic sensor is comparable to current instruments, which are large, bulky and cost thousands of dollars each," said William Trogler, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at UCSD and one of its inventors.
He added: "If this device were mass produced, it's not inconceivable that it could be made for less than a dollar."
In addition to detecting bombs, researchers states that the sensor could have widespread applications in improving the health of industrial workers by providing a new tool to inexpensively monitor the toxic hydrogen peroxide vapours from bleached pulp and other products to which factory workers are exposed.
Prof Trogler invented the device along with Andrew Kummel, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry and Ivan Schuller, a professor of physics.
Much of the work was done by UCSD chemistry and physics graduate students Forest Bohrer, Corneliu Colesniuc and Jeongwon Park.
The sensor works by monitoring the variability of electrical conductivity through thin films of "metal phthalocyanines."
When exposed to most oxidizing agents, such as chlorine, these metal films show an increase in electrical current, while reducing agents have the opposite effect-a decrease of electrical current.
But when exposed to hydrogen peroxide, an oxidant, the metal phthalocyanine films behave differently depending on the type of metal used. Films made of cobalt phthalocyanine show decreases in current, while those made from copper or nickel show increases in current.
The invention is detailed in a paper in this week's issue of the Journal of the American Chemical Society.