The detection of poison gas is critical in industry. Gas chromatographs are big and expensive, so sensor developers have been looking for years to find ways to detect both odors and harmful gases in a small, fast-acting, low-power, and lightweight device. Scientists may have found a way to end-run the problem.
A team at MIT has developed a low-cost way to detect lethal gas at amounts of less than 10 parts per million in 5 seconds. Essentially, they coat carbon nanotubes with materials that erode when exposed to certain gases; coating erodes, circuit closes, alert is sent. One gram of the carbon material can make 4 million sensors at roughly a nickel apiece.
The researchers are working on adding sensors to lightweight RFID (radio frequency identification) badges to add to the mix to be used by anyone whose job takes him around hazardous chemicals or onto a battlefield. Said Timothy Swager, MIT John D. MacArthur Professor of Chemistry:
“We are matching what you could do with benchtop laboratory equipment, such as gas chromatographs and spectrometers, that is far more expensive and requires skilled operators to use. We have something that would weigh less than a credit card.”
There’s still work to be done, including developing a mobile app that can make sophisticated measurements. “Creating new cell phone apps is a little beyond us right now,” said Swager. “We’re chemists.” We bet he could find someone at MIT who knows how to build an app…