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A new portable and precise gas sensor to monitor pollution and detect disease

27 September 2009 No Comment

Technology.am (Sept. 27, 209) — Gerard Wysocki, a Princeton and Rice University researcher has demonstrated a new method of identifying the gas using lasers and sensors to detect nitric oxide gas, a key player in pollution and human physiology.

wysockiIn the air, nitric oxide is a serious pollutant. In the body, it plays a role in heart rate, blood flow, nerve signals and immune function. It is so potent that a few molecules of it per billion or trillion molecules of air promote smog, acid rain and depletion of the ozone layer. Its tiny amounts in a patient’s breath could help diagnose asthma and other disorders.

The device uses a quantum cascade laser and an innovative type of polarizing filter to detect very small quantities of the gas. For medical uses it is attractive because the results are not corrupted by water vapor, which is present in breath samples.

“The sensor we’ve developed is much more accurate and sensitive than existing systems, yet is far more compact and portable,” said Gerard Wysocki, assistant professor of electrical engineering at Princeton.

The device is so precise it can distinguish between different isotopes of nitrogen and oxygen in the nitric oxide molecules.

The new system can run much longer without intervention — several hours compared to just a few minutes for even the best existing ones.

Unlike other systems that need several liters of the sample gas, the compact new sensor needs only a few milliliters of it. This frugality is particularly important in delicate biological applications such as cell-culture studies, said Wysocki.

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