Police departments may soon have access to a handheld tool that can identify airborne substances ranging from drugs to bombs, according to David Salva, president of United States Semiconductor Corp (U.S. Semi). The company has licensed the technology and will be making it commercially available.

However, distributing the palm-sized tool to police officers and others could cost up to $5 million, Salva estimated, and might require nine months to 18 months or maybe a little longer.

Salva's efforts are being aided by a $100,000 grant from NASA, and U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) recently announced a $1.05 million grant.

The device involves "Quantum Fingerprint" technology that has been in development over the past 10 years at the Nuclear Science and Engineering Institute (NSEI) at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

A computer chip covered with a layer of diamond film draws molecules from the air when a current is applied, according to Mark Prelas, NSEI's director of research. Different types of molecules carry their own individual energy or quantum "fingerprint" that is compared to samples in a database.

Prelas estimated that Quantum Fingerprint technology is approximately 1,000 times more sensitive than that of existing models.

Salva said each handheld unit would likely sell for about $400 to $500 and would be linked wirelessly to a central computer.
Abstracted by the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center (NLECTC) from The Associated Press (01/17/07).