CHRISTINE DANILOFF/MIT
Robots & Machines

Researchers Develop Wearable Ultra-Light Toxic Gas Sensors

In the future, soldiers could be getting push notifications about toxic gas on their smartphones.

Researchers from MIT are developing a new wearable sensor that can detect toxic gas and talk to smartphones or other wireless devices to warn users when they are in danger. Their findings were published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

As Light As Paper

Ideally, the sensors are going to be designed to be ultra-lightweight, comparable to a credit card. Eventually, the tech will also be able to be worn.

“Soldiers have no wearable sensors to detect toxic gases. They use a variety of detectors, but they’re not the kind of thing you can carry around. Our sensors weigh less than a piece of paper,” said lead researcher Timothy Swager, Professor of Chemistry at MIT.

The sensor is a circuit loaded with carbon nanotubes. Unlike electric wire, with which most are familiar, the carbon nanotubes are insulated in a polymer, not plastic. The polymer breaks down at the introduction of toxic gases, such as Sarin gas. The loss of the insulations allows the nanotubes to become conductive, which sends a signal to a near-field communication (NFC) enabled device. NFC technology allows devices to transmit data over short distances without the need for internet connection. According to the Tech Times,“the sensors only cost about 5 cents each to make, and about 4 million of them can be created from just 1 gram of the carbon nanotube components.”

Irreversible Response

Scientists say the sensor’s response is irreversible, this will help in determining how much of the toxic agent a person has been exposed to, even after it dissipates. “There are sensors that give reversible response, so things go up and if you take away the signal they go back again. But this one is different: The response is irreversible, so you can get the total dosage,” Swager said.

The toxic-gas detector can be practical for civilians, as well. Workers in areas such as refineries could also benefit from the technology.

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