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New device aims to make airborne monitoring faster and easier

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New device aims to make airborne monitoring faster and easier

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This is the 2nd post looking at the rise in mobile healthcare today.  The first looked at a new device called uMED, which aims to provide an affordable and easy to use means of monitoring for a wide range of diseases, all over a standard mobile phones voice network.

This particular story looks at a new mobile sensor that can detect airborne chemicals that are either exhaled or released through the skin.  The device, which is being developed by researchers at the University of Michigan, is being built alongside the National Science Foundation’s Innovation Corps program, with the aim being to commercialise the product.  It’s hoped that the device will eventually enable users to detect diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, anemia or lung disease.

“Each of these diseases has its own biomarkers that the device would be able to sense,” said Sherman Fan, a professor of biomedical engineering. “For diabetes, acetone is a marker, for example.”

The researchers believe that their device is faster, smaller and more reliable than similar products on the marketplace, which they suggest are often too large to be wearable.  They go on to suggest that their device could also be used to detect things such as chemical leaks or even providing data about air quality.

“With our platform technology, we can measure a variety of chemicals at the same time, or modify the device to target specific chemicals. There are limitless possibilities,” Zhong said.

The device takes an interesting approach to detect airborne molecules.  Previous sensors have typically depended on detecting charge transfer between the sensor and the molecule.  This method can often lead to slow detection rates however, which led the team to use an alternative approach called heterodyne mixing.

“Instead of detecting molecular charge, we use a technique called heterodyne mixing, in which we look at the interaction between the dipoles associated with these molecules and the nanosensor at high frequencies,” they explain.

The new technique, which utilizes graphene, results in significantly faster response times of as little as tenths of a second.  What’s more, it also increases the sensitivity of the device.

These nanoelectronic graphene vapor sensors can be completely embedded in a microgas chromatography system, which is the gold standard for vapor analysis, the researchers say. The entire microgas chromatography system can be integrated on a single chip with low power operation, and embedded in a badge-sized device that can be worn on the body to provide noninvasive and continuous monitoring of specific health conditions.

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