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WASHINGTON: Imagine: tiny sensors built into military combat gear to detect chemical or biological weapons; unseen sensors peppered throughout a submarine to detect radiation leaks or chemical contamination of the crew’s precious air; a cellphone — think Star Trek tricorder, flip it open, open the app and bingo! — able to detect the gas of explosives down to parts per trillion that helps to speed passengers through crowded airports. Or you could embed sensors in your refrigerator and it could tell you exactly what was spoiling and whether it was still safe to eat.

All those technologies may be possible thanks to a breakthrough at the Navy’s premier research lab who may be on the verge of unleashing the long-sought promise of nanotechnology. Researchers at the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) — Christopher Field, Junghoon Yeom, Daniel Ratchford, Hyun Jin In and Pehr E Pehrsson — have figured out how to manufacture nanowires reliably using existing technology.


  • EricPamler

    No working Mission system, No Rover capability….Oh wait, this is some other news report…

  • M&S

    It’s always hard to judge what capability is being offered when the analogies are all to science fiction equipment. The tricorder could be medical or environmental and in the former variant, usually worked with a hand held sensor while in the latter was typically shown as being _remote sensing_ capable.
    I frankly don’t see how a SiN-VAPOR sensor which has to be swept over a target object is more useful than a backscatter device which sucks the vapor off an object, zaps it with neutrons and then looks for a chemical luminescence backscatter in certain key speci.
    Yes, small is nice but the buried IEDs shown in the film clip are not relevant to the performance of the sensor unless the munition is suspected to be a chemical one. In any case, first-detection is still going to be by other means.
    OTOH, if the intended use is for fire detection, does not the relative profusion of CO2, heavy particulates and thermal spiking associated with the old saw: “Where there be smoke…” not predominate?
    Given these systems can differentiate chemicals down to the molecular or even atomic levels, I would be interested in knowing if they had some alternative uses in say synthetic neuro-transmitter arrays where the ability to bridge damaged nerve tissues allowed not simply presence but intensity and ‘mode’ of firing to be interpreted as gradations of chemical:electrical transition response, providing replacement fine motor control in spinal or amputee type traumas.
    Another medical application might be smart targeting for cancer cells with high decay rate single radionucleides delivered straight to a diseased cell.
    If they can truly take the scale down to trillions it should also be possible to employ such a system in nano fabrication where the ‘scent’ of electrical potentialism (like picking up ionized air after a rainstorm) could allow for micropolarized, spin-shifted, manipulators to ‘nudge’ atomic orbits in such a fashion as to create new chemical alloys with properties not seen in existing metals or plastics for instance.
    These are the kinds of applications which seem to me to offer -vastly- greater dual-use civilian potential and it’s sad to see the NRL restricted to such simplistic applications as bomb detection and fire fighting robots.

    • Colin Clark

      It does not have to be “swept over.” It just needs to be in vicinity. It’s passive sensor. I don’t think there is an “intended use.” That’s one of the things that is so cool about this. The story is really more about the ability to mass manufacture the nanowire. That makes it possible to come up with a whole range of applications.

      • VulcanOne

        Your article was well-written and an interesting revelation of the nanowire and the military and civilian potential for detection of harmful substances or gases. There were readers who were poor in comprehension and missed the scientific points of your article, then dissenting with poor English as if the article was ungrammatical which it was not. They are just stupid and unscientific people, Colin. Kudos.

    • Henry

      Don’t forget that the analogies to science fiction are relevant because a lot of the best inventions we have now, were first mentioned in science fiction — long before we had the technology to make them reality. We are just at the beginning of a true revolution in technology. There are so many different researchers now, all feeding on each others discoveries, that the rate we are learning new things and implementing them, is increasing at an accelerating pace.

  • ELPs

    Its always nice to read a 500 word article, and then scroll down to the comment section and read a 2000 word response that has NOTHING to do with the article. Why dont you actually go and launch your own website, where you can RANT about all that you care and share with us your Thesis on aerospace matters, especially given your training and complex expereince working in the aerospace industry. Of course then, youd have to spend a little money, borrow some from your parents perhaps.

    • TK

      Such kind encouragement for open discussion. Personally, as far as I’m concerned, long essays and responses are what should be the ONLY purpose of the comments section, not snide sarcastic useless comments like yours.

    • arakuzi

      reponse was better than the article

    • Robert

      It’s always nice to read an insightful, thought-provoking response–albeit a lengthy one–to an already interesting article–only to have someone chip in their overpriced ‘two cents’ that adds nothing meaningful to the discussion. In the future, I suggest it might be useful for you to simply keep ‘scrolling down’ (i.e., if you don’t approve of “2000 word response(s),” then simply don’t read them).

    • pgpfineart

      you counted the words?? that . . . is . . . AWESOME

    • rubiksking

      people can look on google and find websites where you can blog (such as blogger and, people don’t even have to spend money.

  • beniyyar

    For every defense there is a newer and more effective offense on the way, and vice versa. Our enemies have smart, ambitious, well educated, and well equipped scientists on their payroll as well and they are working day and night to find ways around, through, over, or under every defense apparatus we put together. The only real defense is an effective and lethal offense that takes these people out so severely that no one will even think of wanting to take their place.

    • thehummelr

      Would that be the Doomsday machine?

      • Ronnyboy

        I think Darth Vader made one…anyone know his twitter handle so we can tweet him?

    • LBFM

      I worked in casinos, in the slot department. The reason that the new machines are so advanced is because those that would figure out a way to bypass the security in the machine would figure out the old way and the companies would have to continually upgrade the games. Probably works in any security system.

  • Trexler

    Calendar and my fine

    • angela1a

      agree, they must be kidding. as if I need a nano device to tell me which GMO has gone bad. news flash they last up to a year, yep, I had sausages from Costco that took over a year to rot. lets focus on quality food that people actually like to eat so it doesnt frickin rot.

  • MVByrne

    Very interesting subject… But I have to say, whenever I read an article written by an AOL “writer” I am absolutely appalled by the abysmal quality of the writing itself. There are high school journalists doing far better work. I mean right down to a lack of adequate proofreading! Entire words left out of headlines! Erroneous punctuation, no punctuation, poor grammar, incorrect tense usage. Mind-Boggling! The quality of the writing, at its best, is barely sub-standard, and at times, laughable. Rather jaw-dropping when you consider the enormity and reach of Time-Warner.

    • jj

      Totally agree with you – AOL tends to lower standards to serve the masses

      • Rotten Doodoo

        Take the “m” from masses and move it over next to the “e” in the. What you have is really who the Fluffpost writes for.

        • ted

          Tanks you vely much.. I just don’t get it why do you get on this sight? if it aggravates you so much?Us uneducated people have no problem understanding the message posted Or the articles written by the author. We do apologize to you for be uneducated.Unlike you I had a poor family that could not pay my way threw college and i had to go to work early in life like a lot of American kids at the time. No excuse just facts.

    • Colin Clark

      Phooey! Headlines are NOT sentences. Point out grammatical mistakes etc and we will be GLAD to fix ’em! Please bear in mind that Breaking Defense is NOT part of AOL and AOL is not part of Time-Warner.

      • MVByrne

        Clearly headlines are not sentences, they are headlines. But forgetting a “to” or a “the” or an “if” in a headline is pretty sloppy just the same, wouldn’t you agree? And to your point about AOL not being part of Time-Warner? You are correct. I had forgotten that marriage failed. Probably explains the deterioration in standard journalistic standards. But thank you for the reminder… I do not know “Breaking Defense” as an entity. I just happened to read an article about an interesting topic that was very poorly written and thought I would offer my opinion. And if you are expecting your readers to point out your mistakes, well then the ship to even more sloppy writing has already set sail. Not our job. It’s yours.

        • VulcanOne

          Headlines are not judged with the same grammar one judges sentences. You are writing with extremely poor English. It is very apparent that you did not ingest any of the scientific contributions of the article and your irrational and unsubstantiated comments about grammar while writing with horrible English makes you sound idiotic except to your equally stupid friends. You are a poor and inadequate judge, MVByrne. Go to school!

      • joepad1

        I agree with mvbyrne. It’s not Phooey Colin. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t find typos, added words like the the, words left out. An article 2 days ago about Wayne Carini finding a rare Lamborgini. The name of the car and Wayne’s last name were spelled incorrectly and many commentors pointed it out. It was never corrected. No excuse for this and AOL doesn’t fix them.

        • Rooftop Voter

          AOL does not care. Same for Huff Post.

        • VulcanOne

          “Lamborghini” is the correct spelling. “There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t find typos, added words like the the, words left out.” is an incomplete sentence. Perhaps when you yourself learn English you can appreciate scientific articles.

          • joepad1

            Oops! Now I can work for AOL!

          • joepad1

            Vulcanone…mister perfect!

        • Edwbiker

          AOL doesn’t care because this isn’t AOL. It is one of dozens of “news” sites that AOL links to to provide content. You would have to ask Amanda about HP.

      • Rotten Doodoo

        You seem a bit sensitive to criticism. I read your mercifully brief article several times. Grammar, syntax and morphology were acceptable. What was lacking was meaningful content. I am certain, however, that there are numerous fourth, fifth, and perhaps some sixth graders out there that let out a very low key, uninspired, “wow” when they read it. However, as a retired scientist/engineer, with advanced degrees, who worked for NASA and Rockwell International, I was totally underwhelmed.

        • ted

          As a retired NASA and defense worker undergraduate Cape Kennedy. I just want to say. I stepped in your Rotten Doodoo
          several times during my employ as a space worker. We cannot all be geniuses. Grammar?,Syntax?,Morphology? I just can say WOW!! I can at least spell that. I think I may have done some work orders written by you? How Did we get to the moon?.Oh I remember now. Our supervisor graduated high school and he read the work orders when needed. DUH!!.Clean-room Tech
          Bendix Launch Support. 1965 to 1969.

      • Justie09

        Colin see what you started? Good job! healthy dabate is good, even is it has nothing to do what you wrote about. lol,
        Interesting article BTW.

      • ted

        You must understand Colin. He’s a VULCAN. Maybe he needs to take a trip back to his own planet wear they don’t make errors.

    • VulcanOne

      ” I mean right down to a lack of adequate proofreading! Entire words left out of headlines! Erroneous punctuation, no punctuation, poor grammar, incorrect tense usage. ” Those are all hanging sentences. Point out the English errors you believe you see.

  • Kirk

    This is laughable. Change everything? I think not. Most of us have no need to detect radiation or biological weapons, and I can detect rotten food in my refrigerator just by looking at it. It will take a lot more than that to amaze me.

    • VulcanOne

      You can’t detect poison gas by mere looking, Kirk.

  • Name

    I would imagine that this technology could also eventually be used to detect illegal drugs, and would be a boon to law enforcement. What an amazing, and disturbing, discovery. Amazing because of all the help for mankind, and disturbing that somehow its’ useage might be circumvented into criminal use. Aside from that, what a great century in which to live, though, and someday I think we will see this technology used in detecting disease in humans.

    • ted

      Why due you think we invented it? Law enforcement use.Federal and local.
      I’m not a alarmist but i think it will be causing more problems then help.

  • SwifterMan

    . . .
    Te only problem is – you NEED to create the everlasting war FIRST !
    And most of this planet is tired with the american war-machine !


      everlasting war? interesting. i’m 60 years old, and don’t remember one day of my existence without some sort of warfare going on somewhere in the world.

    • Ran1976

      yes because America is the only country involved in a war at the moment… :

      • ted

        Not true.

        • Ran1976

          the little sarcasm emoticon at the end of the post made that clear, thanks

  • LBFM

    Build a bombproof, transparent booth. Put a bunch of them at each airport with these sensors in them. But add the ability to detonate the explosive detected. You enter the booth the door closes. Five seconds later the back door opens and you go through. If the walls of the booth are coated in red (and other body parts), seal the door until the booth has been cleaned out.
    No pat downs. No x-rays.
    The ACLU would find a way to stop its’ use almost immediately, of course.

    • Ran1976

      darn them pinko commies for wanting to uphold constitutional rights… say that, why would they have a problem with this if metal detectors are ok?

      • Frank J. Austin

        The aclu upholding “constitutional rights” ? Only for persons of a particular ethnicity…

        • Ran1976

          correct, human. because they’ve helped pretty much everyone, including neo-nazi, as distastful as that was

        • Joanne

          Upholding the Constitutional Rights of Christians constantly, because people go too far on the other side too.

  • JM

    Could this be used to find land mines left over from previous wars? People are still being crippled or killed.

    • sil

      detecting old land mines was the first thing I thought of.

  • William Popp

    I wish it could be waved over Fast Food to see which will give you the worst gas before eating it.

  • liephman88


  • Bob

    To bad it belongs to the DOD. The rest of us saps will never see it again.

  • beth

    i like the idea of it being able to detect spoiled and bad food!

    • Justie09

      If it moves throw it away.

  • p38l5

    Is it just me, or do these articles bring out the smarmy intellectuals who proceed to “dis” other posters, each trying to seem the most knowledgeable? If you are so intelligent, why are you wasting your time making nasty comments on line because someone’s post was too long, that person is too stupid to post, you don’t know what you are talking about, dumass, etc, etc. Here’s a concept. Disagree in a polite manner if you feel someone is factually wrong. Explain your reasoning. Or is Human Relations 101 no longer taught to science/engineering students? Ever wonder why some of you have trouble finding, keeping jobs? Because, no matter how smart you are, you p-ss off so many people at work, no one wants to work with you. And I have been told by many scientific people that science is often a team effort. Lets try for a little mutual human respect, shall we?

  • frogface

    If explosive chemicals are sprayed over a large area,how is this device going to pinpoint a bomb?

    • ted

      frogface. DUH!!Den yous bring in dem dam dogs.

  • James

    Yup, great. I already have TWO of these sensors. They are called a nose and eyeball.

  • Kay

    Cancer or disease sniffer?
    If dogs can do it, maybe the sensor can to!

    • ted

      Kay this may be designed to detect weed in your house and/or car. And you don’t have to feed it dog food. That’s our Government for you. Always thinking
      on how to get the weed. OH and the biggest Cancer and disease we have is in Washington.

  • Joanne

    A smoke detector that won’t go off when you take a shower. Good as gold.

  • frank1946

    Navy Men are smarter than the rest of us.
    Never say a word !
    Engineers even Better.

  • iamthetruther8

    It can detect explosives, various substances, and so forth. Abolish TSA, then.

  • pgpfineart

    google stargate sg-1 replicators, this is totally freakin awesome

  • VulcanOne

    It is a well-written article but some readers have not understood for lack of comprehension skills (i,e,, it is above them.) The correct grammar to them is incorrect, and so they ramble on with obvious lack of grammar sadly believing themselves to be representatives of good English writing comments with hanging and incomplete sentences, making general accusations, and showing themselves to be undeveloped in literacy, and of course totally missing the points of science.

    • Justie09

      Just give them the vulcan death grip. that will teach them.

  • Justie09

    And the grammatical pissing match goes on. This was very entertaining. The article was good but the comments were better.

  • Rick Wright

    Very Outstanding indeed…………. Sometimes science produces really usefull things and this is one of them….. Yes we do have smart people in the world …..

  • Baltbud

    What an interesting story. Another interesting particle to confirm the truth of God’s gift to man. I am a diest. I have long thought of the Almighty and tried to understand Him to my limited means to do so. I wondered what was His purpose for us, and a number of years ago decided that this world was created by Him with special gifts to be discovered.
    From the beginning, there was enough substanance in air and water and food potential for all. To everything He added the premises requirement: Each gift is to be earned, and as we have seen, knowledge and hard work unpeal the onion as the future constantly unfolds.
    How many people in times of trial pray for something not promised. The world is ruled by the Law of Nature, which is God’s Law, and when the world turns to Him in the way of this story we see Him, but when we look to Him to avoid situations like the Holocost as one example, we do not find Him. It is in our hands; this partnership with the Almighty. How he must wonder why we lose faith in Him.

  • james

    Hey you Americans, before you rant on, non of you can spell.
    License (Licence), Defense (Defence) etc.
    If yeu want Englis lesons, justt kontact mee and I will edumicate yeu.

    • ted



    China probably has this technology already.,,,,,right off the inventors computer. Does patents mean anything anymore?

    • ted


  • Juan Roman

    That robot is slow I would of put that fire out with my piss

  • ted

    I’m shocked. Scientist Shikoku? Japanese American said we do not have educated enough people in this country anymore.Where did these people come from? They could not have been born in this country. You mean we can invent things? WOW!!
    I guess i been watching to much T/V. They got to be Japanese NAH!! Chinese. I got to get out more.

  • Marcheal Gideon

    How about a device that can augment the human body make us more robotic type.