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Thursday 27th October 2016

Trapped people located by chemicals in breath

14th September 2011

Scientists believe they may have found a way to detect people trapped after disasters by searching for the chemicals in their breath.

Using volunteers in a mock-up of a collapsed building, the team from Loughborough University found that molecules such as acetone and ammonia in the breath of volunteers were easily detected through the simulated rubble.

Writing in the Journal of Breath Research, they suggest that the breakthrough could be used to develop an “electronic sniffer dog” to seek out survivors trapped at sites of disasters.

While a demonstration device has already been developed, the hope is to support rather than replace the search and rescue dogs currently being used.

Professor Paul Thomas, who led the research, said: “Dogs are fantastic but they don’t work for very long, and they undergo injury and suffering as a result of their work in a search and rescue environment.”

He said the Second Generation Locator project was about producing better sensors and systems that can find people.

Professor Thomas said it remained unclear what dogs actually detect when searching for people and he added: “We need to try and define in scientific terms what a 'signs of life detector' would need to respond to.

“But what starts from a human and travels through building may not be what gets to the end of the building.”

The device developed by the team was able to detect what they were looking for within an hour of someone being buried in the remains of the structure.


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