Electronic nose in your shirt sniffs out volatile compounds

Peratech has designed a sensor made of pressure-sensitive materials that can detect potentially harmful gases. These tiny sensors are printable and can be integrated into clothing.
Written by Janet Fang, Contributor

A sensor made of highly pressure-sensitive material could become an electronic nose for detecting volatile compounds. These sensors are printable, and they can be integrated into clothing, someplace they’ve never been before. Technology Review reports.

UK-based Peratech designed the sensor to rapidly detect volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are gases in our surrounding, some of which have adverse health effects. These can be produced by many things, from house paint to your own skin. Since many don’t have an odor, so this device would alert you to the presence of chemicals that are harmful to your health.

Pictured here, the thin sensor is actually just that small, gray dot on the rightmost part of the photo. It’s only a few microns thick (and the rest of that is testing equipment).

Electronic noses have a long history, but the company claims its technology makes for a faster sniffer that produces a much larger response signal, or in this case, a change in electric charge.

The VOC sensors could be integrated into protective clothing for first responders entering chemically contaminated areas, or into everyday clothing to monitor your own VOCs, an indicator of health status.

Here’s how it works:

  • The sensor is built with quantum tunneling composites (QTCs), which have been used to create pressure-sensitive touch screens.
  • In quantum tunneling, electrons jump between conductors that are distributed through a nonconductive matrix.
  • Deformation, like twisting or bending, brings the conductors close enough to one another that electrons can travel this way.
  • In these new sensors, the QTC is made of VOC-absorbing polymers that are spotted with conductive metallic particles.
  • When the polymer absorbs a VOC, it swells and pushes the conductive particles closer to one another. This enables quantum tunneling and electron flow.

And since the sensor can be printed as a thin film, it requires a low amount of power – maybe from a small power source integrated in the clothing or from a cell phone in the pocket.

[Via Technology Review]

Image: Peratech via Tech Review

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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