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"Sensored Material" -- The Discovery Files

The Discovery Files
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Monitoring everything from explosives to tainted milk, materials for use in creating sensors for detection devices have been developed by a University of Houston chemist and his team.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Sensing a Change.

I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files -- new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

(Sound effect: airport terminal) There's been a lot of discussion about current methods of screening passengers boarding planes. Most are willing to undergo the less-than-private ordeal in exchange for the peace-of-mind of a safe flight. Scientists at the University of Houston see a future in which scanning may be more effective and less invasive.

The team has created polymer materials that can be used to create sensors for detection devices. Their work is based on what they call "the artificial receptor concept." The polymer materials act like antibodies, binding with specific materials -- in this case metals and plastics.

The second part of the research dealt with imprinting these materials directly on a gold surface film attached to a digital readout. This was accomplished using a process called electropolymerization.

The team has fabricated portable sensor devices that are fast, extremely accurate and can be used discretely.

This technology is not only limited to detecting explosives and banned substances at airports. The sensors could be used to monitor food products like milk or pet food for possibly harmful or substandard ingredients.

Within a year the team plans to introduce handheld detection devices that can rapidly test for a variety of dangerous chemicals and harmful pathogens. Better keep that thing away from my gym bag.

"The Discovery Files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

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