Detect Chemical or Bacterial Contamination with Nanosensors - dummies

Detect Chemical or Bacterial Contamination with Nanosensors

By Earl Boysen, Nancy C. Muir, Desiree Dudley, Christine Peterson

Nanotechnology can enable sensors to detect very small amounts of chemical vapors or bacterial contamination. Various types of detecting elements, such as carbon nanotubes, zinc oxide nanowires, or palladium nanoparticles, can be used in nanotechnology-based sensors. These detecting elements change their electrical characteristics, such as resistance or capacitance, when they absorb a gas molecule.

Because of the small size of nanotubes, nanowires, and nanoparticles, a few gas molecules are sufficient to change the electrical properties of the sensing elements. This characteristic allows these particles to detect a very low concentration of chemical or bacterial molecules in the air.

The goal is to create inexpensive nanosensors that can sniff out hazardous substances just as dogs are used in airports to smell the vapors given off by explosives or drugs.

The capability to produce small, inexpensive sensors that can quickly identify a chemical vapor gives us a kind of nano-bloodhound that doesn’t need sleep or exercise and that could be useful in a number of ways beyond airport security:

  • Industrial settings: These sensors could be useful in industrial plants that use chemicals in manufacturing settings to detect the release of chemical vapors.

  • Sensing hydrogen leaks: When hydrogen fuel cells come into use, in cars or other applications, a sensor that detects escaped hydrogen could warn of a leak.

  • Air quality monitoring: This technology should make it possible to build inexpensive networks of air qualitymonitoring stations to improve the tracking of air pollution levels.

  • Mobile phones: With the technology applied to mobile devices, a food science worker out in the field could wave a cell phone over a head of lettuce and have the device sense the presence of salmonella or dangerous levels of pesticides, for example.

  • Contagious airborne diseases: You could use nanosensors to scan people boarding planes to stop disease carriers from travelling and reduce the spread of pandemic contagions.