Belgian researchers sniff out nerve gas and pesticides with an electronic nose

electronic nose hazardous chemicals nose3
KU Leuven - Joris Snaet
A team of Belgian scientists have developed a hyper-sensitive “electronic nose” to help sniff out extremely low concentrations of chemicals like pesticides and nerve gas. How low are we talking? About a-drop-of-water-in-an-Olympic-pool low, according to post-doctoral student and lead researcher Ivo Stassen.

Alcohol breathalyzers are one of the most common electronic noses. But where alcohol is easy to detect due to its high-concentration in an inebriated person’s breath, many other gases are less obvious due to their low concentrations relative to the surrounding air and their complex molecular structure.

Stassen and his co-author, Professor Rob Ameloot of KU Leuven in Belgium, sought to pinpoint these more easily concealed gases and turned to nature for inspiration. “Living organisms use a diverse range of olfactory receptors to identify odors based on their physiochemical properties,” Stassen tells Digital Trends.

“However, such proteins are difficult to integrate in electronics. The materials that we propose, metal-organic frameworks or MOFs, are a novel class of synthetic materials that, like proteins, are built from organic and inorganic moieties and contain nanoscale voids that can serve as receptors for odors.”

Stassen describes MOFs as “like microscopic sponges,” which can soak up quantities of gas into nanoscopic pores. The frameworks’ sponginess and small pores enable them to detect minuscule molecules, such as sarin used in nerve gas, and residue left over from pesticides on crops, in quantities as slight as parts per billion. In a study published in the journal Chemical Science, the researchers specialized the MOFs  to detect particular compounds used in both substances — however, Stassen says they will eventually be able to design MOFs to detect different substances.

“Many families of volatile organics could be targeted in the future,” Stassen says. “For example, odor patterns can be used for applications ranging from breath-analysis disease detection to wine authentication. Smell is one of the few senses that has not yet found its way to our smartphones. We think that this will change in the near future.”

The researchers believe they can apply MOFs to electrical circuits to turn devices like smartphones into gas sensors. Still, it will be some time until we get our hands on such equipment — Stassen says the pilot device should be completed within the next year.

Computing

Leaked AMD Ryzen 3000 mobile benchmarks look fit for thin, low-power laptops

AMD is poised to give Intel a run for its money in the ultra-low-power processor space for laptops. Leaked benchmarks for the Ryzen 3000 APU series show the AMD processor besting Intel's Core i7 Y series in multicore performance.
Emerging Tech

Are e-cigarettes safe? Here’s what the most recent science says

Ecigarettes are widely regarded and advertised as a healthier alternative to cigarettes for people who are trying to kick the smoking habit. How safe are these cigarette alternatives? We went deep into the recent scientific literature to…
Cars

LM Industries’ autonomous shuttles head to Phoenix, Sacramento campuses

LM Industries will deploy Olli low-speed autonomous shuttles at school campuses in Arizona and California as part of its ongoing "fleet challenge," which asks local groups to propose uses for autonomous vehicles.
Deals

Cook your holiday meals with this $60 Instant Pot, on sale today only

Instant Pots were a huge hit for Black Friday and Cyber Monday with prices reaching as low as $60, but you haven't missed your chance at a great deal. Amazon is slashing the price on the Instant Pot Ultra with a $60 discount for today…
Emerging Tech

Postmates’ to roll out Minion-like autonomous delivery robots in 2019

Postmates is about to employ a cute little robot to work alongside its human delivery personnel. Called Serve, the wheel-based bot can carry items weighing up to 50 pounds and has a range of 30 miles.
Emerging Tech

The best drone photos from around the world

Most of today's drones come equipped with high-end cameras, which are quickly revolutionizing the world of aerial photography as we know it. Here are some of the best drone photos from around the world.
Emerging Tech

Rise of the Machines: Here’s how much robots and A.I. progressed in 2018

2018 has generated no shortage of news, and the worlds of A.I. and robotics are no exception. Here are our picks for the most exciting, game changing examples of both we saw this year.
Emerging Tech

Thrill-seekers will be able to pilot themselves in a giant drone as soon as 2019

Want to hitch a ride on a giant drone? The startup Lift Aircraft is gearing up to let paying customers fly its 18-rotor giant drones over assorted scenic landscapes across the U.S.
Emerging Tech

CRISPR gene therapy regulates hunger, staves off severe obesity in mice

Researchers from UC San Francisco have demonstrated how CRISPR gene editing can be used to prevent severe obesity in mice, without making a single edit to the mouse's genome. Here's how.
Emerging Tech

Capture app saves money by 3D scanning objects using iPhone’s TrueDepth camera

Capture is a new iPhone app created by the Y Combinator-backed startup Standard Cyborg. It allows anyone to perform 3D scans of objects and share them with buddies. Here's how it works.
Emerging Tech

Sick of walking everywhere? Here are the best electric skateboards you can buy

Thanks for Kickstarter and Indiegogo, electric skateboards are carving a bigger niche than you might think. Whether you're into speed, mileage, or something a bit more stylish, here are the best electric skateboards on the market.
Emerging Tech

Parker Solar Probe captures first image from within the atmosphere of the sun

NASA has shared the first image from inside the atmosphere of the sun taken by the Parker Solar Probe. The probe made the closest ever approach to a star, gathering data which scientists have been interpreting and released this week.
Emerging Tech

Say cheese: InSight lander posts a selfie from the surface of Mars

NASA's InSight mission to Mars has commemorated its arrival by posting a selfie. The selfie is a composite of 11 different images which were taken by one of its instruments, the Instrument Deployment Camera.
Emerging Tech

Researchers create a flying wireless platform using bumblebees

Researchers at the University of Washington have come up with a novel way to create a wireless platform: using bumblebees. As mechanical drones' batteries run out too fast, the team made use of a biology-based solution using living insects.