In the wake of the London bombings, BusinessWeek has put together a cover story on "The State of Surveillance." Most of the tech discussed in the piece should be pretty familiar to Defense Tech readers -- face scanners, RFID tags, yadda yadda. But the article also mentioned a sci-fi sounding research thrust I hadn't heard of before: "a little chemical lab analyzes the sweat, body odor, and skin flakes in the human thermal plume -- the halo of heat that surrounds each person."
In the quest to sort bad guys from good, scientists are poking ever more intimately at the core of each person's identity -- right down to the DNA. One day people's distinctive body odor, breath, or saliva could serve as an identifier, based on the subtle composite of chemicals that make up a person's scent or spit. One's smell "is a cocktail of hundreds of molecules," says Frank V. Bright, a chemistry professor at the University at Buffalo, the State University of New York. "The question is whether it's a gin and tonic or a margarita." While some of these sensors perform well in the lab, he adds, the real world may be different: "The technology is still in its infancy."Science today is hard put to identify smells a beagle could nail in an instant. "We want to show there is a set of underlying odors in people independent of perfume and what they ate that day," says Gary K. Beauchamp, director of the Monell Chemical Senses Center at the University of Pennsylvania, a pioneer of odor prints.