An international team of researchers, led by Professor Akintundle Ibitayo Akiniwande, are developing a tiny sensor that could be used to detect minute quantities of hazardous gases, including toxic industrial chemicals and chemical warfare agents, more quickly than current devices. A key factor in the team's success is their ability to take common techniques of gas chromatography and mass spectrometry and shrink them to fit in a device the size of a computer mouse. Eventually they plan to build a detector approximately the size of a matchbox.
According to Akiniwande, scaling down gas detectors makes them easier to deploy and use in a real-world environment where they could be dispersed throughout a building or outdoor area. Other advantages of reducing their size include reducing the amount of power they consume and enhancing their ability to detect trace amounts of gases. Current gas chromatography and mass spectrometry machines are about the size of a full paper grocery bag, use 10,000 joules of energy, and take about 15 minutes to produce results. The new, smaller version consumes about 4 joules of energy and produces results in about 4 seconds.
The analyzer works by breaking gas molecules down into ionized fragments that can be detected by their specific charge. The team plans to have a finished device within two years.