A powerful new laser device, fabricated by researchers, is capable of detecting tiny traces of vapours given out by explosives.
"The device is about 100 times more sensitive and faster than any other detection device," said Charles Harb, associate professor from from the School of Electrical Engineering and Information Technology at the University of New South Wales (UNSW), who led the study.
A prototype of the device - a pulsed, quantum laser-based, cavity ring down spectrometer - is now being tested at the US government's Los Alamos National Lab in New Mexico, the journal Optics Express reported.
The device could be positioned to "sniff" bags travelling along a conveyor belt and instantly alert security personnel if it detects explosive vapours coming from a passing suitcase, according to an UNSW statement.
Similarly, it could be used at airport security checkpoints where people walk through arches designed to detect metal, knives and guns.
A hose attached to the arch would pipe air to the device that's the size of a desktop printer and could detect a person carrying explosives.
Ultimately it could replace the more intrusive and unpopular airport security checks such as full body scans and pat downs as well as the inconvenience of having to remove shoes, jackets and belts.
Other devices can detect vapour from explosives, but they are nowhere near as fast, said Harb.
"We can measure these components of TNT very clearly - down to the tiny sub-milli-torr pressures, in other words in the parts per billion range in atmosphere."
After further testing, the device should be able to be calibrated to detect the unique signatures of other substances and different types of explosives.
Harb thinks it will take up to two years of testing before it is ready for commercial use. He and his team began work on the laser "sniffer" in 2005 after they were approached by the Australian Federal Police.
Harb has also worked with specialists at Loyola University in New Orleans and Los Alamos National Lab.