Issue Date: January 14, 2013
Breath Analysis For Search And Rescue
Researchers have developed a way to quickly detect the chemical signature of breath from people trapped inside confined spaces in rubble after earthquakes or terrorist attacks. Wolfgang Vautz of the Leibniz Institute for Analytical Sciences, in Dortmund, Germany, and coworkers turned to ion-mobility spectrometry because the technique already is used to monitor human breath for metabolites related to diseases such as diabetes and lung cancer. To test the method’s potential in search and rescue, the researchers used a refrigerator-sized glass-and-polycarbonate box to simulate a void space in a collapsed building. Ten volunteers spent six hours each in the chamber. Using gas chromatography and then ion-mobility spectrometry, the scientists analyzed air samples from the chamber, a process that took about three minutes per sample. Vautz’s team identified 12 chemicals known to be present in human breath—including acetone, benzaldehyde, and decanal—that accumulated in the box (Anal. Chem., DOI: 10.1021/ac302752f). Vautz thinks that snaking a sampling tube into rubble to search for elevated levels of the 12 chemicals could help rescue workers find trapped people.
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