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New gas sensing device to aid air quality assessments, health screenings

In a series of tests, the new e-nose technology quickly and accurately measured a variety of volatile organic compounds in air samples. Photo by Kwiatkowski, Drozdowska and Smulko
In a series of tests, the new e-nose technology quickly and accurately measured a variety of volatile organic compounds in air samples. Photo by Kwiatkowski, Drozdowska and Smulko

July 6 (UPI) -- Scientists have developed a new gas sensor capable of detecting a range of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, easily vaporized organic molecules emitted by a variety of solids and liquids.

Researchers described the new gas-detecting device in a new paper, published Tuesday in the journal Review of Scientific Instruments.

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Fast and accurate VOC detection could help scientists conduct air quality screenings, as well as detect a variety of human health problems.

Over the last decade or so, medical researchers have linked unique combinations with VOCs with different diseases, including cancers and neurodegenerative disorders.

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"[The device] utilizes commercial and prototype resistive gas sensors of low-energy consumption to detect volatile organic compounds, such as methane, ethanol, toluene, methylene, nitrogen dioxide, formaldehyde, ammonia, among others, in air samples," lead study author Andrzej Kwiatkowski, researcher at Gdańsk University of Technology in Poland, said in a news release.

"The sensors change their resistance in the presence of VOCs, which exist in the environment and exhaled breath," Kwiatkowski said.

The new e-nose device features a gas chamber, a series of electrical valves and an electrical micropump.

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After accounting for environmental conditions, including humidity, temperature and air pressure, the device captures a small air sample or breath and uses sensors to detect and measure the presence and concentration of VOCs in less than 10 minutes.

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The device features a touchscreen, which allows users to store, organize and analyze VOC measurement data captured by the e-nose.

"The setup is a low-cost device of simplified maintenance and service," said study co-author and Gdańsk researcher Janusz Smulko.

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"Additional environmental sensors boost the accuracy of gas sensing by correcting effects induced by temperature and humidity changes. The device can monitor the air quality collected in a human environment, such as in an office or warehouse, to detect molds or bacteria by emitted smells," Smulko said.

Researchers suggest their device can also be used for medical screenings.

Although VOC detection isn't typically used for diagnosis, it can help medical professionals determine whether a patient is in need of a more thorough checkup.

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