Test can detect breath and sweat in disaster zones

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A team of researchers from Loughborough University in the UK are currently working on a sensor which could help find victims who are buried in rubble a...

A team of researchers from Loughborough University in the UK are currently working on a sensor which could help find victims who are buried in rubble after natural disasters or terrorist attacks.

Tests of the portable ‘sniffer’ device have shown it is able to detect breath, sweat and skin particles given off by humans and could help speed up rescue missions.

An experiment of the sensor, which saw volunteers take turns lying in an imitation of a collapsed building, found it was successful in identifying carbon dioxide, ammonia and organic compounds.

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The study was led by Professor Paul Thomas from Loughborough University. He said: “This is the first scientific study on sensing systems that could detect trapped people.

“The development of a portable detection device based on metabolites of breath, sweat and skin could hold several advantages over current techniques.”

Sniffer dogs are currently one of the most common methods of searching for buried victims, but can be time consuming as the dogs require frequent rests and are costly to train.

Thomas added: “A device could be used in the field without laboratory support.

“It could monitor signs of life for prolonged periods and be deployed in large numbers, as opposed to a handful of dogs working, at risk to themselves and their handlers, for 20 minutes before needing extensive rest.”

The results of the research into the breath test are currently appearing in the Journal of Breath Research, which is published by the Institute of Physics.

A spokesperson for the institute commented on the study: “As the first study of its kind, this preliminary work can be built upon to help prepare for future disasters such as those tragedies we've seen recently in Japan and New Zealand.”

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