Sniffing out nerve gases: Electronic nose to detect chemical attacks

An electronic ‘nose’ made of an array of sensors has been developed to detect the presence of deadly nerve gases such as sarin.

The nose, which has been developed by scientists at the Universitat Politècnica de València in Spain, could one day be a standard feature on public transport to detect the presence of chemical warfare gases placed there by terrorist organisations.

“In the future, they could be used, for example, in transport infrastructures such as airports or train stations, as well as in other national security services,” explained Martínez Máñez, head of the Institute of Molecular Recognition and Technological Development at the Universitat Politècnica de València.

Although uncommon, such gases have been used in attacks previously, with one of the most famous being the 1995 sarin attack on the Tokyo subway in Japan, and there are fears that such attacks could rise with growing civil unrest.

Chemical attacks are extremely dangerous, with agents often having a short time between inhalation and death and posing a significant risk of neurological damage in survivors.


The electronic nose uses fifteen sensors hooked up to a data acquisition system and computer to indentify the presence of gases.

“The system registers the signs of gas through metal oxide semiconductor sensors (MOS), which respond to gases in a characteristic way,” explained Máñez.

“Then, the signs obtained are mathematically processed to obtain the different recognition patterns to discriminate between the different gases we have worked with.”

Once the sensors detect the presence of gas, the data system will identify what type, prompting an immediate alert to announce its presence.

This should enable quick evacuation of the area, giving the technology the potential to save lives.


While there are other systems that can detect chemical warfare gases, they are typically expensive to manufacture or limited in what they can detect. This system, however, is cheap enough to be put into mass production, making it highly suitable for use on a large scale.

“The use of the electronic nose technology aims to create a device that detects these warfare gases in an efficient, quick, simple and cheap way,”  said Cristian Olguín, researcher, of the Institute of Molecular Recognition and Technological Development at the Universitat Politècnica de València.

The device is also small enough that is could be available as a portable version if required, making it ideal should a country experience a heightened threat of gas attack.

Such gases are relatively simple for terrorist organisations to manufacture, and with the possibility of growing unemployment from automation coupled with displacement due to climate change, there is a reasonable possibility that the number of groups willing to use chemical warfare will rise.

Featured image and second body image courtesy of ChameleonsEye / First body image courtesy of the Universitat Politècnica de València.

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