AIR travellers could soon be able to travel with liquids in their hand luggage, thanks to a bright idea by an Oxfordshire scientist.

Prof Pavel Matousek dreamed up the technology at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory at Harwell and now it is in use at 65 airports across Europe including Heathrow and Gatwick.

The device, called the Insight100 identifies the chemical composition of liquids in non-metallic containers without the need to open them.

Prof Matousek said: “The technology is able to identify the chemical composition in seconds, and with greater reliability than any other existing system.

“To take such technologically advanced research and develop it in such a way that a successful solution to a key national security challenge has been found is fantastic.”

Liquids have been banned from hand luggage since 2006 following a foiled terrorist plot.

But the Insight100 should enable airports to remove the ban through phased implementation over the next two years.

Prof Matousek developed the technology at the Science and Technology Facilities Council spin-out company, Cobalt Light Systems, also based at Harwell.

Now it has been shortlisted for top engineering prize, the MacRobert Award.

Cobalt chief executive Paul Loeffen said: “Being selected as a finalist for the prestigious MacRobert Award is an incredible accolade for the team at Cobalt Light Systems.

“It is hugely satisfying to see an academic discovery from a UK laboratory undergo several stages of innovation, ending with deployment at international airports to enhance passenger security. The development of the Insight100 has been a multi- disciplinary engineering effort on very tight timescales and has culminated in dramatic commercial success over the last year.’’ The science behind the Insight100 could also be used for cancer screening, detecting counterfeit goods and food analysis in the future.

Cobalt Light Systems was established in 2008 as a spin-out from the UK’s Science and Technology Facilities Council’s Rutherford Appleton Laboratory.

The winner of the MacRobert award will be announced on July 2.