Detecting Toxic Gas with Sensors and Smartphones

Researchers at MIT have developed wireless, wearable toxic-gas sensors made from altered nanotubes with the capacity to detect extremely small amounts of toxic gas and send alerts to your smartphone.

The goal of this technology is to be applied to safety and security devices, such as badges worn by solider to detect the presence of chemical weapons or devices for those who frequently work around hazardous materials.

“Soldiers have all this extra equipment that ends up weighing way too much and they can’t sustain it,” says Timothy Swager, lead author of the paper. “We have something that would weigh less than a credit card. And [soldiers] already have wireless technologies with them, so it’s something that can be readily integrated into a soldier’s uniform that can give them a protective capacity.”

This from MIT:

The sensor is a circuit loaded with carbon nanotubes, which are normally highly conductive but have been wrapped in an insulating material that keeps them in a highly resistive state. When exposed to certain toxic gases, the insulating material breaks apart, and the nanotubes become significantly more conductive. This sends a signal that’s readable by a smartphone with near-field communication (NFC) technology, which allows devices to transmit data over short distances.

Read the full article.

Swager reports that the sensors are sensitive enough to detect less than 10 parts per million of toxic gas in five second. Even more impressively, the sensors only cost a nickel to make.

The next step for the researchers is to take this technology from the lab to the field, where it will prove more challenging to detect the more dispersed toxins.

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