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The News

Prof. Fernando Patolsky and Dr. Michael Ioffe of Tel Aviv University‘s Sackler Faculty of Exact Sciences have developed an easy-to-use sensor that, when dipped into a cocktail, will instantly detect the presence of a date rape drug. When ready for commercial purchase in just a few years, the sensor will be lightweight and discreet, easily transportable in a pocket or purse. The researchers say the sensor can detect GHB and ketamine, the most commonly used date rape drugs, with 100 percent accuracy.

The Importance

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics:

Rate of rape and sexual assault per 1,000 age 12 or older, 2009
All Female
Rape/sexual assault 0.5 0.8
Rape 0.3 0.6
Completed 0.1 0.3
Attempted 0.2 0.3
Sexual assault 0.2 0.2
Source: National Crime Victimization Survey

Among women, approximately 200,000 were either raped of sexually assaulted (as of 2007). And this is only conservative. Because so many cases go unreported, the actual number is believed to be 80 to 100 percent higher.

The Science

The new system works on simple optics principles, says Prof. Patolsky.

Though date rape drugs are effective because they’re colorless and tasteless when mixed into a cocktail, they do subtly change the optical properties of the drink. When a ray of light comes into contact with a drugged drink, a “signal change” occurs and the sensor sounds the alarm, which could be a beeping noise or a small flashing light in environments that are dark and loud.

To test the accuracy of the sensor, Prof. Patolsky and Dr. Ioffe had bartenders prepare a large number of the 15 most popular cocktails. Fifty of these drinks were randomly spiked with GHB, without the researchers’ knowledge. When their test was conducted, each of the spiked drinks was correctly identified, and there were no false positives.

Researchers are now working on miniaturizing the system, making it easy and affordable for personal use. Each device, says Prof. Patolsky, might look like a pen or clip, easy to dip into a glass. A disposable cartridge inside, responsible for recognizing the presence of a drug, would be able to identify two to three spiked drinks before needing to be replaced — and new cartridges would each cost under a dollar.

My Opinion

Although the product won’t be on the market for a number of years, it is wonderful that science will be giving women a way to go to the bars  or parties and feel safe. As a man, I can say that I cannot imagine the potential panic that must be involved with something as normal as going out for drinks. It is a sad reality of our society that so many women have to be subjected to the cowardly advances of such disgusting individuals. Absolutely no one deserves to be sexually assaulted, and the physical/psychological damage that it causes is disastrous. Hopefully, this will be one way to ameliorate that pain.

Great applications of engineering and science to social problems reminds me of a quote by the late great Carl Sagan:

We can do science, and with it, we can improve our lives.

[Via American Friends of Tel Aviv University]

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