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Electronic Nose Can Sniff Out Harmful Toxins

Dr. Kenneth S. Suslick and his research team at the University of Illinois have developed a device which is sensitive to harmful toxins. The device is called the “Electronic Nose” by its developers. This currently available technology utilizes inexpensive materials as the device’s components, too. This device will allow the detection of harmful toxins for people who have been exposed or who are working in close proximity to them.

How the Electronic Nose Works

To devise this technology, the researchers gathered a series of chemical compounds that can change color when they are exposed to harmful chemical reactions. The color pattern that results is always unique and represents a particular toxic chemical. This pattern is compared to a collection of known color patterns of harmful gases and therefore is identified in a matter of seconds.

The Electronic Nose Tested in 2009

The Electronic Nose was tested in September of 2009 by the scientists. They selected 19 harmful industrial chemicals whose concentration was such that it could kill humans. Some of these chemicals included chlorine, ammonia, sulfur dioxide, and nitric acid. When the developed chemical compounds were exposed to these harmful chemicals for two minutes, it only took a few seconds for the Electronic Nose to identify the toxins. Within two minutes, 90 percent of the toxins were successfully identified by this wonder device.

What the Electronic Nose Contains

The Electronic Nose contains 36 sensors that respond when a particular pattern of color is formed. A response is given by the sensors with the help of Light-Emitting Diodes or LEDs. LEDs are a semiconductor light source where electrons are able to recombine with electron holes, releasing energy in the form of photons. The Electronic Nose employs flatbed scanners used to scan the sensors to help us understand the information that is collected. What’s more, these scanners are inexpensive, portable, and make the scanning process fast and efficient.

The History of the eNose

The name of Electronic Nose was first used during 1988 by scientists as a generic term for “an array of chemical gas sensors incorporated into an artificial olfaction device”. From there the Electronic Nose often took the name of eNose by those covering this field in Iceland in 1991.

A Unique Molecular Fingerprint for Toxic Gas

According to Suslick, the Schmidt Professor of Chemistry at the University of Illinois, the Electronic Nose allows for a color change which is a unique molecular fingerprint for any toxic gas. This device is said by Suslick to be a digital multidimensional extension of litmus paper. To create the sensor array, the scientists produce a series of tiny colored dots, each representing a different pigment. These are on some type of inert backing such as plastic or paper. This array is then digitally imaged with the scanner before and after exposure to an odor-producing substance. Unlike other electronic sniffing devices, Suslick’s colorimetric sensors are not affected by changes in relative humidity. Because this new technology is readily available and fairly inexpensive, it will be useful in many different occupational settings. The Electronic Nose sniffs out a broad range of chemicals, making it a device that is truly useful for the health and safety of those at risk of exposure.

 

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