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Sensors Could Reveal Trapped Survivors

September 13, 2011 by  

LONDON, Sept. 12 (UPI) — British scientists say molecules in breath, sweat and skin could help locate people trapped in buildings in disasters such as earthquakes or terrorists attacks.

In a study, participants entered a simulated collapsed, glass-clad, reinforced-concrete building while scientists sampled plumes of air for tell-tale signs of their presence, a release from the Institute of Physics in London said Sunday.

The researchers hoped to create a preliminary profile of molecules that could indicate the presence of living survivors in a disaster zone.

Sensors detected carbon dioxide and ammonia in the plumes of air that traveled through the purpose-built rubble, highlighting their effectiveness as potential indicators, researchers said.

“This is the first scientific study on sensing systems that could detect trapped people,” Paul Thomas of Loughborough University said. “The development of a portable detection device based on metabolites of breath, sweat and skin could hold several advantages over current techniques.

“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,” Thomas said.

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