Electronic Nose Sniffs Using Carbon Nanotubes

electronic nose sensorA prototype “electronic nose” device has been developed based research by Nosang Myung, a professor at the University of California, Riverside. Potential applications include detecting pesticide levels, detecting gas leaks or combustion emissions on industrial sites, warning systems for bio-terrorism, and in the military, detection of chemical warfare agents.

The electronic nose prototype, which can detect small quantities of harmful airborne substances, was built by Nano Engineered Applications, Inc., based on intellectual property licensed from the University of California.

“This is a really important step,” Myung said. “The prototype clearly shows that our research at the university has applications in industry.”

Nano Engineered Applications, Inc is now concentrating on writing software related to the device and working to make it smaller, according to Steve Abbott, president of the company which is designing the product and expects to begin selling it within a year.

Currently, the prototype is about four inches by seven inches. The objective is to make it the size of a credit card. At that scale, a multi-channel sensor would be able to detect up to eight toxins, and a single-channel sensor device could be the size of a fingernail. Abbott says he believes the product will at the outset be commercialized on the industrial side for monitoring things like gas and toxin leaks, and emissions.

Functionalized Carbon Nanotubes

electronic nose prototypeThe prototype is centered on the nanosensor array that Myung started developing eight years ago. It uses functionalized carbon nanotubes, which are 100,000 times finer than human hair, to detect airborne toxins down to the parts per billion level.

The prototype also contains a computer chip, USB ports, and temperature and humidity sensors. Version 2 of the prototype, due out in 30 days, will integrate a GPS device and a Bluetooth unit to sync it with a smart phone. The development team is also investigating whether adding Wi-Fi capabilities will add value or not.

The unit is designed to be integrated into three basic platforms: a handheld device, a wearable device and in a smartphone. Different platforms will be used dependent on the application.

For instance, a handheld unit could be used for environmental monitoring, such as a gas spill. A wearable unit could be used for an at-home children’s asthma study in which the researcher wants to monitor air quality. A smartphone unit could be used by public safety officials to detect a potentially harmful airborne agent in the field.