Tiny sensor to detect hazardous gases more quickly than current devices

January 13th, 2008 - 1:40 pm ICT by admin  

Washington, Jan 13 (ANI): Engineers at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) are developing a tiny sensor that could be used to detect minute quantities of hazardous gases and chemical warfare agents, much more quickly than current devices.

Using the common techniques of gas chromatography and mass spectrometry (GC-MS), a team led by MIT Professor Akintunde Ibitayo Akinwande, made this device, which is just the size of a computer mouse.

“Everything we’re doing has been done on a macro scale. We are just scaling it down,” said Akinwande.

According to Akinwande, scaling down gas detectors makes them much easier to use in a real-world environment, where they could be dispersed in a building or outdoor area.

“Making the devices small also reduces the amount of power they consume and enhances their sensitivity to trace amounts of gases,” he said.

Shrinking the device greatly reduces the energy needed to power it, in part because much of the energy is dedicated to creating a vacuum in the chamber where the electric field is located.

Another advantage of the small size is that smaller systems can be precisely built using microfabrication. Also, batch-fabrication will allow the detectors to be produced inexpensively.

The device could also be used to help protect water supplies or for medical diagnostics, as well as to detect hazardous gases, including toxic industrial chemicals in the air.

The detector works by using the technique of GC-MS to identify gas molecules by their telltale electronic signatures. What it does is that it breaks down gas molecules into ionized fragments, which can be detected by their specific charge.

Current versions of portable GC-MS machines, which take about 15 minutes to produce results, are around 40,000 cubic centimeters, about the size of a full paper grocery bag, and use 10,000 joules of energy.

But, the new, smaller version consumes about four joules and produces results in about four seconds.

Eventually, the research team plans to build a detector about the size of a matchbox. (ANI)

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