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Sensors May Detect Chemicals
February 1, 2007

While it might be very difficult to detect benign chemicals that could make an explosive when mixed together, it is not nearly as difficult to detect traces of potentially dangerous chemicals on the fingers of individuals who recently have been in contact with them.

At the University at Buffalo’s multidisciplinary Center for Unified Biometrics and Sensors, (CUBS) researchers from several academic departments have proposed development of a biometric sensor that could detect such traces on the fingers of airline passengers.

“An individual never can be absolutely certain that he or she has completely eliminated all traces of such chemicals from their skin,” said Venu Govindaraju, Ph.D., CUBS director and professor of computer science and engineering. Such a biometric sensor could be programmed to detect traces of certain chemicals, Dr. Govindaraju said. Such a sensor could be programmed to detect numerous potentially hazardous or questionable substances or chemicals simultaneously, he said. The sensor also could capture multiple modalities, such as fingerprints, palm prints and hand geometry.

Dr. Govindaraju is working on this project with colleague Frank Bright, Ph.D., UB Distinguished Professor of Chemistry in the College of Arts and Sciences; Alexander Cartwright, Ph.D., professor, and Albert Titus, Ph.D., assistant professor, both in the Department of Electrical Engineering in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

The UB researchers began designing the device nearly a year ago in the context of cross-border security, specifically in Western New York, which is home to several busy U.S.-Canada border crossings.

In that context, the researchers proposed that fingerprint sensors could be easily accessed during the conversation that border crossers have with customs agents before being allowed into the country; such access could even be automated, Dr. Govindaraju said.

Detection of legitimate chemical traces, such as pharmaceuticals for instance, could trigger a request for a prescription so that ordinary commerce and transportation would not be significantly impacted, he said.

The CUBS researchers are exploring funding opportunities for such a biometric sensor.

Other CUBS projects are funded by the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD), the National Science Foundation (NSF), the New York State Office for Science, Technology and Academic Research (NYSTAR) and CUBRC, as well as private companies throughout the U.S.

Dr. Govindaraju explained that CUBS takes a unique approach to developing technologies in biometrics, combining and “tuning” different biometrics to fit specific applications.

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