Silicon Sniffer; September 2005; Scientific American Magazine; by Steven Ashley; 2 Page(s)
Shortly after terrorist bombs ripped through central London's transit system on July 7, Scotland Yard dispatched trained sniffer dog teams to search for explosives and to scent out clues at the blast sites. Meanwhile, less than an hour up the M11 highway in Cambridge, engineers Billy Boyle, Andrew Koehl and David Ruiz-Alonso were lamenting the fact that the antiterrorist technology they had worked on since just after 9/11--a sensitive but inexpensive electronic nose--had not been ready to help avert this tragedy. The Ph.D. engineers have developed a button-size chemical sensor prototype that is designed, among other things, to detect trace amounts of explosives before they detonate.
The prospect of a modern-day coalmine canary for trains and buildings still lies in the future for the entrepreneurial brain trust of Owlstone Ltd., the University of Cambridge spin-off company the trio established two years ago. But backed by $2 million in venture-capital funding, the device should be ready for field tests this fall. The three are confident that the low-power device can quickly identify tiny concentrations of substances in parts per billion. "Our idea is to put one on the lapel of every soldier and in every Tube carriage," Boyle states.