Weird Science Weekly: Airport security may someday involve the ‘sniff test’

In this week's installment of Weird Science Weekly, we're looking at some of the strangest stories in science, including using body odour as the next biometric security identifier, cyborg cockroaches from Japan and a chicken that helps us see how dinosaurs walked...

Body odour may become the next big thing in biometric security

These days, there are plenty of different ways for us to be identified by security systems — simple ID cards and passports, passwords, fingerprints, facial recognition. Yet, soon a pass through security may involve a test similar to the one you perform to check if the milk is still good.

Scientists at the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid in Spain have been testing a biometrics method that samples and identifies people based on body odour. For airport security, such technology could do away with the need for passports and other documents, pat-downs and intrusive body scans. Also, the same sniff test that identifies you could scan for other substances, like narcotics or the chemicals that go into making weapons or explosives.

It involves submitting a sample of your body odour for comparison in the system. Even with changes in diet, mood or health, the researchers found that this method has a higher than 85 per cent success rate. They note that this is less accurate than using fingerprints or iris scans, but say that people may be more reluctant to submit to that kind of information gathering, since those methods are more commonly associated with having a criminal record. To some, giving a sample of their odour might not bring up such connotations, but it should be noted that dogs have been tracking criminals with just a whiff of their scent for years.

Besides, this would probably mean we'd all have to go without deodorant, while standing around in a large crowd of people, all of us stressed about going though airport security and making our plane on time. It's a tossup as to whether that would really be better than the pat-downs and the scans.

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Japan creates self-powered cyborg cockroaches, creeps out the world

Some of the technological advances coming out of Japan these days are pretty amazing, but others are just downright creepy.

Does the tubing make it any less creepy? I'd say 'no'Researchers at Tokyo University and Osaka University have installed fuel cells into the backs of giant Madagascar cockroaches. The fuel cell breaks down the sugar in the roach's circulatory system (trehalose) into glucose, which is then oxidized to produce electricity. According to the paper published on this, a roach can generate a little over 50 microwatts of power.

Why, you might ask? Or maybe it might be more like: "Why, Japan? Why? WHY?"

Well, if you hook some electrodes into a cockroach, you've got yourself a remote-controlled cyborg rover that can go places people and robot rovers can't — collapsed buildings and hazardous radiation zones, just to name two. Cockroaches make better cyborg rovers because they have a stronger power source than a battery-powered device. After all, they generate electricity just by eating. The researchers say they could even be used to wirelessly transmit sensor data. Multiple flying insects could form a wide-area sensor network.

I have to say, it's pretty neat, but I still think this is one technology Japan can keep for itself.

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This chicken walks like a dinosaur

One of the best revelations of the biological world (in this author's opinion) is that dinosaurs didn't actually disappear off the planet when the meteor ended their reign 65 million years ago, the surviving species actually evolved into the birds that we know today.

In order to get more insight on how dinosaurs like T. rex walked around, researchers turned to one of that fearsome dino's current living relatives, the chicken. A chicken's skeleton is very close to T. rex's, except for the head and the lack of a long tail. The researchers didn't just slap a tail on any old chicken and film it, though. They actually raised three groups of chickens from egg to adult — to the control group they made no changes, the second group had weights strapped to chickens' backs and the third group had the clay and wood dino tails strapped to chickens' backs.

As the video shows, the control chicken walked pretty much like any chicken you'd see strolling about — head up and gut down and using its knees to drive its forward motion. The chicken from the experimental group walked with its head down and used its hips more to drive its forward motion — just like a dinosaur would do.

In the words of Jurassic Park's Alan Grant: "I bet you'll never look at birds the same way again."

[ More Geekquinox: Mars rover captures first image of Earth from the Red Planet ]

Keep your eyes on the wonders of science, and if you spot anything particularly strange you'd like me to check out for next week, comment below or drop me a line on Twitter!

(Images courtesy: Getty, K. Shoji et al)

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