Research headed by professor Nosang Myung at Bourns College of Engineering, University of California, Riverside (UCR), has resulted in the development of a prototype "electronic nose." The work brings to mind previous "electronic noses," but rather than discovering forms of cancer, Myung's prototype is designed to detect harmful airborne agents such as pesticides, biological weapons, gas leaks and other unwanted presences. The development has clear applications in military, industry and agricultural areas.
UCR has exclusively licensed the tech to Nano Engineered Applications in order to fabricate a working prototype and efforts are now geared toward shrinking the device from approximately 4 x 7 inches (10 x 18 cm) to about the size of a credit card. At this size, a multi-channel sensor would be able to detect up to eight separate toxins in the air, while a single-channel sensor could also be built to the size of a fingernail.
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“This is a really important step,” noted Myung. “The prototype clearly shows that our research at the university has applications in industry.”
The sensor originates from a nano-sensor array Myung began developing eight years ago which uses functionalized carbon nanotubes 100,000 times finer than human hair to detect airborne toxins down to the parts per billion level. The current prototype also sports a computer chip, USB ports and temperature and humidity sensors. Version 2 of the device is due to be finished in 30 days and this will integrate a Bluetooth for syncing with smartphones, as well as a GPS receiver. The addition of Wi-Fi is being considered too.
The “electronic nose” will eventually be developed into three platforms: a handheld device, which could be used for environmental monitoring, a smaller wearable version useful for monitoring air quality, and a smartphone-integrated system, which the team reports could detect a potentially harmful airborne agent.
Nano Engineered Applications is currently seeking partners to help bring a production version of the prototype to market. It is expected that the product will initially be see industrial use, monitoring toxin leaks, gas emissions and other airborne agents. President of Nano Engineered Applications Steve Abbot states that the company expects to begin selling the device within a year.