SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. (WPRI) — A University of Rhode Island Professor and his students are using their skills in chemical engineering to create a device that can save lives.
Otto Gregory, a chemical engineering professor at URI, and his students created a sensor device that can detect explosives, even in the smallest concentrations, that are commonly used by terrorists. The sensor was created back in 2016, and he believes they’ve made significant progress in their research to improve it.
“We’ve made great progress on the project, and now we’re ready to get the word out,” Gregory said. “We’ve turned a corner with these latest developments.”
If the “Digital Dog Nose” is a success, the sensor could be placed in subway stations, train stations, airports and ports to detect bombs nationwide.
“It works like a dog nose, we sniff the air for these nasty molecules,” Gregory said.
One of the explosives the device tests for is triacetone triperoxide, or TATP. This type of explosive was used during the Paris and Brussels attacks several years ago. Gregory said terrorists utilize TATP because it’s easy to make with chemicals that can be bought at pharmacies and hardware stores, which attract little attention from authorities.
“These are quote homemade explosives that are still very deadly,” Gregory said.
Only small amounts of TATP are needed to cause large explosions. The goal of Gregory’s research is to detect the explosives’ vapors before the bomb detonates, allowing for quick evacuations of the area to save the lives of those nearby.
The device is lightweight and is about the size of a toolbox. This allows for the device to be carried easily and efficiently to several locations.
“We’ve been working on this, making the device smaller and smaller,” Gregory said.
The device will also scan continuously for explosives, which is beneficial because a bomb-sniffing dog may become tired.
“This is kind of putting numbers to a dog’s intuition,” URI chemical engineering student Andrew Rossi said.