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Miniature Sandia sensors may advance climate studies

macrovalve to fill the package with air. A small pump builds up pressure, filling the tiny cylinders. "You'd use personal-computer (PC) processors that you can put on a circuit board to operate the miniature system," he said.

The balloons would have global positioning locators on them. The low weight would make them suitable for balloon and UAV applications. The tiny containers are built of alumina tubing, cheap and more inert than glass.

Data collected by the tiny cylinders also could be used to confirm satellite images of airborne industrial effluents, essential for monitoring cap-and-trade deals.

But not all potential uses are in the upper atmosphere. Geoscientists drill boreholes for oil and to understand how the Earth formed. "It's hard to build a mass spectrometer to go down a 2-inch diameter borehole," Manginell said. "We've proposed instead to use our miniature samplers outfitted with microvalves to take samples that can be transported pristinely back to the surface and then examined in a lab."

In medicine, volatile compounds that people and animals emit are indicative of disease states and stress. "Point-of-care medicine, instead of taking a blood sample, could sample a person's breath," Manginell said. "Alcohol gives a gross signal but infections have a high volatile content as well." The bacteria that give cows tuberculosis produce a characteristic signature, for example.

"It would take a miniature pump the size of the last joint of your thumb to collect a sample," Manginell said. "One can perform on-the-spot detection, but also capture a sample in the miniature chamber to send back to the lab for gold-standard tests." E coli and anthrax also have volatile signatures, he said.

The detector also could be used by the military to collect and analyze gases on the battlefield.

"We've spent a lot of time over the past 15 years doing field analysis for customers: microchemlab work for the military an

Contact: Neal Singer
DOE/Sandia National Laboratories

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