Sensor to detect fear pheromone

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A device that can ‘smell’ human fear could identify terrorists during routine security checks at airports and high-profile events.

The technology is the subject of a study being undertaken by City University London with support from the Home Office Scientific Development Branch.

Led by Prof Tong Sun, the 18-month project aims to develop two sensor systems that can detect the unique chemical signature of the fear pheromone, assessing the stress of an individual and interpreting it in security-critical contexts. The first device will be based on laser absorption while a further area of research will look at the development of a portable optical-fibre device.

Sun said: ‘The challenge lies in the characterisation and identification of the specific chemical that gives away the signature of human fear, especially the fear in relation to criminal acts.

‘There are reports about the correlation between human “fear” and pheromone, however, there is no such detector available yet.’

According to Sun, the new technology could help UK law enforcement agencies identify abnormal behaviour at events such as the London Olympics, where visual and acoustics cues are restricted.

The project will look at potential obstacles to the device, such as the affects of perfume and the variances in pheromone production.

While much of the work is still theoretical, Sun predicts that if the feasibility study is successful, then the development of ‘smell’ detectors could take place within the next two to three years.

She added: ‘I do not see any particular reason why similar sensor techniques cannot be expanded to identify human smells by race, age or gender to build a profile of a criminal during or after an incident.’