An electronic nose to sniff out nasty chemicals

Using materials technology to add a touch interface to devices, U.K. scientists develop an electronic nose sensor able to be tied into clothing or paper.

Adding an electronic sense of smell with a chemical sensor, the dot at the end of this device. Peratech

Materials scientists have turned high-tech powders into an electronic nose that could be used for safety and health applications.

U.K.-based Peratech today announced that it has designed a device able to detect harmful chemicals, such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs). It uses a new type of electronically conductive material, made in a powder form, which is also being used to add touch controls to mobile phones and other surfaces.

Called quantum tunneling composite material, it can create an electrical current when it bends or is touched. For the electronic nose, the material can be placed on films and even be woven into clothing.

For example, first responders could have clothing that detects harmful chemicals or people could have clothing that monitor VOCs for health reasons, the company told Technology Review.

There's a long history of trying to make electronic noses. NASA, for example, needs sensors to monitor certain chemicals, such as ammonia, on the International Space Station.

Peratech said its sensors have low power requirements and its advanced materials allow for the sensor to detect chemicals and recover quickly.

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About the author

Martin LaMonica is a senior writer covering green tech and cutting-edge technologies. He joined CNET in 2002 to cover enterprise IT and Web development and was previously executive editor of IT publication InfoWorld.

 

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