MIT Develops Low-Cost Wearable Toxic-Gas Detector

Jul 01, 2016 07:32 AM EDT

Researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed a low-cost wearable chemical sensor that has the ability to detect traces of toxic gas using smartphones and other wireless technology.

According to a paper published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, the new sensor will be used to design a lightweight inexpensive radio-frequency identification (RFID) badges that can be carried around anywhere to provide personal safety and security. Military personnel and people working in factories will be greatly benefited upon the availability of the new sensor.

With the help of the new sensor, soldiers in the battlefield can easily detect presence of chemical weapons, such as nerve gas and choking agents. On the other hand, factory workers can use the new sensor to detect any possible leakage in the containers and pipes carrying hazardous chemicals.

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"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," said Timothy Swager, the John D. MacArthur Professor of Chemistry and lead author of the study, in a statement.

The new sensor was made out of carbon nanotubes covered with an insulating material to keep the highly conductive material to a highly resistive state. The insulating material will break apart when exposed to certain toxic gases. Upon breaking, the nanotubes wrapped inside the insulating material will be slightly conductive, sending signal that's readable by a smartphone with near-field communication (NFC) technology

Researchers noted that the new sensor is sensitive enough to detect less than 10 parts per million of target toxic gases in about five seconds.

 "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," Swager explained in a press release.

The next step now for the new sensor is to test it on live chemicals outside the lab, where the gases are much more dispersed making it harder to detect their trace levels.

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