September 22, 2009

Portable nitric oxide sensor created

U.S. scientists say they've demonstrated a new way of identifying nitric oxide gas using lasers and inexpensive, compact and highly sensitive sensors.

Nitric oxide is a gas well known to scientists for its myriad functions, but which has proven challenging to measure accurately outside the laboratory. A team of researchers from Princeton and Rice Universities created the portable device that they say could be of great value to atmospheric science, pollution control, biology and medicine.

The scientists said nitric oxide is so potent that a few molecules of it per billion, or even trillion, molecules of air promote smog, acid rain and depletion of the ozone layer. Similarly tiny amounts in a patient's breath could help diagnose asthma and other disorders.

The sensor we've developed is much more accurate and sensitive than existing systems, yet is far more compact and portable, said Princeton Assistant Professor Gerard Wysocki.

Wysocki is a co-leader of the research team that includes Rice scientists Frank Tittel and 1996 Nobel laureate Robert Curl, as well as RafaÃ…“š Lewicki and James Doty III.

The research was reported in the Aug. 4 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.