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Photo:UCR Media​

Device Could Allow Cell Phones to Detect Bioagents

In 2004, researcher Nosang Myung started building miniaturedevice to detect airborne toxins. Eight years later, the newest prototype is about a month from completion.

Myung, a University of California-Riverside (UCR), Bourns College of Engineering professor built a nanosensor that could be used by law enforcement to detect chemical and biological agents or by industrial sites and farms to measure gas leaks or pesticide levels. The sensor has been implemented into a handheld device created by Nano Engineered Applications, Inc.

“At present, it’s about four inches by seven inches. The goal is to make it the size of a credit card. At that size, a multi-channel sensor would be able to detect up to eight toxins. A single-channel sensor device could be the size of a fingernail,” says a release from UCR. The sensor uses carbon nanotubes 100,000 times smaller than a human hair. The tubes can detect toxins at the level of parts per billion.

Biosensors are one of the most innovative and adaptable 21st century technologies. Myung’s research over the years has focused on next generation biological and gas sensors and electronics, in this case, using mobile devices to detect airborne substances in real time. The unit isdesigned for use in mobile phones or in wearable or handheld devices.

“A handheld unit could be used for environmental monitoring, such as a gas spill. A wearable unit could be used for a children’s asthma study in which the researcher wants to monitor air quality. A smartphone unit could be used by public safety officials to detect a potentially harmful airborne agent,” says the release.

The first prototype of the “electronic nose” included a computer chip, USB ports, and temperature and humidity sensors. The prototype coming out next month will have GPS and Bluetooth sync capabilities.

Innovation Economy Corporation, the creator of Nano Engineered Applications, is now looking to collaborate with companies that could bring the production version to market.

Some other notable research in detection nuclear chemical and biological agents:

Scientists at the University of Liverpool are developing amobile detection system for radioactive material to prevent dirty bomb attacks.

Safecast used Kickstarter to created and fund production of a“citizen’s Geiger counter."

And a team of engineering students at Yale created arapid pathogen screener to help prevent food-borne illness and diagnose bacterial infections faster.