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Belgian Researchers Develop Electronic Nose Capable of Detecting Low Concentrations of Pesticides and Nerve Gas

Jul 05, 2016 02:43 AM EDT
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Electronic Nose Smells Pesticides and Nerve Gas
Detecting pesticides and nerve gas in very low concentrations. An international team of researchers led by Ivo Stassen and Rob Ameloot from KU Leuven, Belgium, have made it possible.
(Photo : © KU Leuven - Joris Snaet)

An international team of researchers led by Ivo Stassen and Rob Ameloot from KU Leuven (University of Leuven), Belgium has developed a new electronic nose that is capable of sniffing out pesticides and nerve gas even at very low concentrations.

At present, the most popular electronic nose is the breathalyzer, which is typically used by law enforcement officers to measure the amount of alcohol in the breath of drivers. The chemical sensor in the breathalyzer reacts to the alcohol in the breath, which in turn converted into electronic signal to allow the police officer to read the measurements.

According to a press release, Breathalyzers can easily detect alcohol due to specific chemical reaction and the concentration of gas is fairly high. However, there are certain types of gases that have complex molecules and have low concentration, making them harder to detect.

Using metal-organic frameworks (MOF), researchers were able to build a very sensitive electronic nose that can measure even very low concentrations. MOFs are like microscopic sponges that have the ability to absorb lots of gas into their miniscule pores.

For the new electronic nose, the researchers created a MOF that absorbs phosphonates found in pesticides and nerve gas. The new chemical sensor can also be integrated in existing electronic devices.

"This MOF is the most sensitive gas sensor to date for these dangerous substances. Our measurements were conducted in cooperation with imec, the Leuven-based nanotechnology research centre. The concentrations we're dealing with are extremely low: parts per billion - a drop of water in an Olympic swimming pool - and parts per trillion," Stassen explained in a statement.

Researchers believe that the potential of MOFs do not end in detecting traces of pesticides and nerve gas. Due to the ability of the MOFs to measure very low concentration, it can also be used to detect diseases such as lung cancer and MS in an early stage

The new electronic nose, which is described in the paper published in the journal Chemical Science, was funded by the Research Foundation Flanders (FWO) and is carried out in collaboration with imec research centre for nanotechnology (Leuven and Eindhoven), Ghent University, and Kiel University.

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