Electronic Nose Prototype Can Sniff Out Harmful Substances
August 23, 2012

The Nose Knows – Electronic Nose Prototype Developed By Researchers

April Flowers for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

No one denies that a sense of smell is important. People have trained themselves to smell the subtle differences in foods and wines and perfumes. We have trained dogs that can smell explosives and drugs and even the changes in a person's body when they are going to have a seizure. With this much emphasis on smelling, is it any wonder that someone has developed an electronic nose?

Research by Nosang Myung, a professor at the University of California, Riverside's Bourns College of Engineering, has enabled a local company to develop an "electronic nose" prototype that can detect small quantities of harmful substances.

Based on intellectual property exclusively licensed from UCR, Nano Engineered Applications, Inc., has completed the prototype, which has potential applications in many industries. The machine could be used in agriculture to detect pesticide levels, at industrial sites to detect gas leaks or combustion emissions, by Homeland Security as a warning system for bio-terrorism, or by the military to detect chemical warfare agents.

“This is a really important step,” Myung said. “The prototype clearly shows that our research at the university has applications in industry.”

The current device is about four inches by seven inches, but the company is focused on bringing that size down to about that of a credit card. They are also developing software to support the device and enlarge its capabilities. Steve Abbot, president of Nano Engineered Applications, Inc., says he believes the initial commercialization of the product will be for industrial monitoring applications.

The key to the prototype is the nanosensor array that Myung started developing eight years ago. It uses functionalized carbon nanotubes, which are 100,000 times finer than human hair, to detect airborne toxins down to the parts per billion level.

The prototype also includes a computer chip, USB ports, and temperature and humidity sensors. Version 2 of the prototype, due out in 30 days, will integrate a GPS device and a Bluetooth unit to sync it with a smart phone. The development team is evaluating if adding Wi-Fi capabilities will add value.

The company envisions three basic designs for the nose; a handheld device, a wearable device and in a smartphone. Applications for the three designs will vary. The handheld unit could be used for environmental monitoring like at a gas spill, the wearable unit could be used for a children's asthma study to monitor air quality, and public safety officials trying to detect potentially harmful airborne agents could use the smartphone unit.