Bomb sniffing dogs have become an important part of law enforcement, but that could change. Over the weekend, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley published their findings in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

Bomb Sniffing Dogs Laser

“Bomb sniffing” laser sensor

Mechanical engineering professor Xiang Zhang headed up the team. They found a way to make laser sensors sensitive enough to be able to detect “incredibly minute concentrations of explosives,” according to the UC Berkeley News Center. Researchers said law enforcement could use the sensor to detect a type of explosive that is used by terrorists and usually difficult to detect.

Researchers tested the sensor with a number of different kinds of explosives and discovered that it was able to detect airborne chemicals at very low concentrations. They said the sensor can detect DNT at .67 parts per billion, ammonium nitrate at .4 parts per billion and nitrobenzene at 7.2 parts per billion. As a comparison, one part per billion is about the same as a single blade of grass on a vast football field.

Advantages over other bomb detection methods

Researchers also said that the new technology could have some advantages over the current methods used to detect bombs, which include the use of dogs. Of course dogs can be quite expensive to train, and they get tired. They can be distracted and have other physical needs, of course. The sensors could also replace the use of swabs at airports, which are used to detect residue from explosives. Researchers said that system has “relatively low-sensitivity” and requires testers to actually touch the object.

“Our technology could lead to a bomb-detecting chip for a handheld device that can detect the tiny-trace vapor in the air of the explosive’s small molecules,” said Ren-MMin Ma, co-lead author of the study and an assistant physics professor at Peking University.

Researchers also suggested that the sensor could be used for an alarm to detect unexploded land minds, which are also difficult to detect. The United Nations reports that 15,000 to 20,000 people die because of land minds every year, with most of the victims being children, women and the elderly.