"This research is an essential component of the GEI Exposure Biology Program that NIEHS has the lead on, which is to develop technologies to monitor and better understand how environmental exposures affect disease risk," said NIEHS director Linda Birnbaum. "This paper brings us one step closer to having a small wearable sensor that can detect multiple airborne toxins."
To test the application of their color sensor array, the researchers chose 19 representative examples of toxic industrial chemicals. Chemicals such as ammonia, chlorine, nitric acid and sulfur dioxide at concentrations known to be immediately dangerous to life or health were included.
The laboratory studies used inexpensive flatbed scanners for imaging. The researchers have developed a fully functional prototype handheld device that uses inexpensive white LED illumination and an ordinary camera, which will make the whole process of scanning more sensitive, smaller, faster, and even less expensive. It will be similar to a card-scanning device. The device is now being commercialized by iSense, located in Palo Alto, Calif., and Champaign.
The researchers say older methods relied on sensors whose response originates from weak and highly non-specific chemical interactions, whereas this new technology is based on stronger dye-analyte interactions that are responsive to a diverse set of chemicals. The power of this sensor to identify so many volatile toxins stems from the increased range of interactions that are used to discriminate the response of the array.
"One of the nice things about this technology is that it uses components that are readily available and relatively inexpensive," said David Balshaw, Ph.D. program administrator at NIEHS. "Given the broad range of chemicals that can be detected and the high sensitivity of the array to those compounds, it appears that this device
|Contact: Ken Suslick|
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign