University of Utah is sniffing out a dangerous vapor!

Category: World News 89 1
By lauraramonique

The University of Utah is helping out with preventing future terror attacks by sniffing out dangerous vapor!

SALT LAKE CITY—The University of Utah engineers have developed a new type of fiber material that could drastically help detect small amounts of alkane fuel vapor. The small hand-held device could become valuable in early detection for leaks in oil pipelines, an airliner and even for locating a terrorists explosive.

Alkane fuel is a key ingredient in combustible material such as gasoline, airplane fuel, oil and even a homemade bomb. Yet it’s difficult to detect and there are no portable scanners available that can sniff out the odorless and colorless vapor.

Dan Hixson/University of Utah College of Engineering
University of Utah materials science and engineering professor Ling Zang holds up a prototype handheld detector his company is producing that can sense explosive materials and toxic gases. His research team developed a new material for the detector that can sense alkane fuel, a key ingredient in such combustibles as gasoline, airplane fuel and homemade bombs.

The American Chemical Society journal published it’s studies online on Friday. ACS Senors is led by University of Utah’s material science and engineering professor Ling Zang who is also a faculty member with the Utah Science, Technology and Research (USTAR) economic development initiative.
The new fiber material could be very helpful because there are currently no small or portable chemical sensors that are able to detect alkane fuel vapor because it’s not chemically reactive. And the only conventional way has been to use a large oven-sized instrument inside a lab.

That’s when Zang’s team pulled together and developed a composite that involves two nanofibers transferring electrons from one to the other. Ben Bunes is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Utah’s material science and engineering department also helped with the study saying:

“These are two materials that interact well together by having electrons transferring from one to another. When an alkane is present, it sticks in between the two materials, blocking the electron transfer between the two nanofibers.”

The study states stresses just how important and helpful this new detector could become:

“That kind of interaction would then signal the detector that the alkane vapor is present. Vaporsens, a University of Utah spin-off company, has designed a prototype of the handheld detector with an array of 16 sensor materials that will be able to identify a broad range of chemicals including explosives. This new composite material will be incorporated into the sensor array to include the detection of alkanes. Vaporsens plans to introduce the device on the market in about a year and a half, says Zang, who is the company’s chief science officer.”


Such a small sensor device that can detect alkane vapor will benefit three main categories:

Oil pipelines.

If leaks from pipelines are not detected early enough, the resulting leaked oil could contaminate the local environment and water sources. Typically, only large leaks in pipelines can be detected if there is a drop in pressure. Zang’s portable sensor — when placed along the pipeline — could detect much smaller leaks before they become bigger.

Airplane fuel tanks.

Fuel for aircraft is stored in removable “bladders” made of flexible fabric. The only way a leak can be detected is by seeing the dyed fuel seeping from the plane and then removing the bladder to inspect it. Zang’s sensors could be placed around the bladder to warn a pilot if a leak is occurring in real time and where it is located.


The scanner will be designed to locate the presence of explosives such as bombs at airports or in other buildings. Many explosives, such as the bomb used in the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, use fuel oils like diesel as one of its major components. These fuel oils are forms of alkane

The Research that was conducted at the University of Utah was funded by the Department of Homeland Security, National Science Foundation and NASA. And it really could be key in helping with detection of dangerous vapor in oil pipelines, airplane fuel tanks and it’s a great security measure for explosives like bombs at airports and other buildings. The discovery could bring forth some new measures to implement at airports and government buildings, truly helping with detecting anything fishy.

Now that’s a pretty cool discovery Utah, keep up the great work.

Blessed be.

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