Belgian researchers invented a new electronic device that can sense nerve gas and pesticides. The substance detector can identify even extremely low concentrations of chemicals.
The lead researcher said that the device could detect even the faintest quantities of chemicals, as shallow as a drop of water in an Olympic pool.
Another substance detector that is highly used is the alcohol breathalyzer. However, the alcohol consumption can also be detected in the breath of the person. Many other chemical substances cannot be as easily recognized because of their complex molecular structure and low concentration.
Nature as Inspiration
The two scientists involved in the research used living organisms as an inspiration. The natural olfactory receptors can identify odors with the use of certain physiochemical properties, including proteins.
The challenge faced by the researchers was to implement nature’s model by using electronic devices. Until now, it was impossible to integrate proteins into electronics.
The Metal-Organic Framework
The merit of the two scientists is that they created a new material called metal-organic framework. The new class of synthetic materials contains organic and inorganic parts. The nanoscale voids can be used as receptors for volatile substances.
The material consists of clusters of ions coordinated through substances that can form a complex with a biomolecule. The structure of such combination depends on the complexity of their organic and inorganic dimension, going from molecular compounds to 3-D coordination polymers and 3-D inorganic hybrids.
The metal-organic frameworks work as microscopic sponges that can take in gas into their tiny pores and analyze it.
Substance Detector Applications
The device can detect sarin, which is used in nerve gas, and pesticide residue. However, the inventors said that the new material could be set to identify any other type of chemical substance that can combine with vapors.
Other potential uses of the new metal-organic framework could be detecting a disease by breath analysis and wine authentication.
The scientists even say that the new material could help incorporate smell into a smartphone. Having a gas sensor included into an electronic device that became so common in our days, and has multiple purposes that make it incredibly useful.
As incredibly useful such a feature would be, the public should not get too excited by the idea of having a substance detector inside their smartphone. The scientists completed just the first phase of their project, and the pilot device will be completed only during the next year.
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