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Airport security checks may soon involve detecting residual vapours of chemicals, explosives and biological agents without delving into people's luggage.
Queensland University of Technology lecturer Dr Dmitri Gramotnev's research has discovered special metallic structures which may allow detection and identification of extremely small amounts of substances, even separate molecules in the air
Dr Gramotnev said the technology may even be useful when faced with the situation of liquid explosives in a sealed bottle, such as those threatened in the current London bomb scare.
"Detection inside a sealed bottle would be very difficult ... but residual material would be left on the person's hands and on their luggage if they have participated in making a bomb," he said.
"Currently, to detect explosives, chemicals or biological agents a piece of tape is brushed over a person's luggage and it's taken away for testing.
"With the newly developed 'nano-focusing' technology, luggage could be monitored and any vapours from suspect agents detected as people pass through airports."
The co-leader of QUT's Applied Optics Program said the structures, called plasmonic waveguides, could focus light into nanoscale regions, unachievable in conventional optics.
"This type of system could revolutionise airport security, air quality monitoring and forensic investigation," he said.
Work done by Dr Gramotnev and his team has been cited six times this year in Nature and Science, they have been invited to speak at five international conferences in the last two years and have won an award for a research paper presented in Japan.
The plasmonics research at QUT is conducted in close collaboration with the University of Tokusima in Japan and the Center for Nano-scale Science and Engineering at the University of California Berkeley.
Former QUT PhD student Dr David Pile was also chosen to work as a post-doctoral fellow at the University of California Berkley to further the research started at QUT.
Dr Dmitri Gramotnev can see a future where airport security doesn't involve delving into luggage.