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“Sensor on a Chip” Could Enable Inexpensive Environmental Monitoring

Researchers are working on tiny sensors that could eventually enable inexpensive real-time monitoring of water and air for pollutants.

The researchers, at University of Delaware’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering, are developing highly sensitive devices capable of detecting chemical molecules in the environment, even at low levels. These sensors could replace current molecular detectors, which are both unwieldy and costly, and be used in the field to detect environmental contamination.

“In the end, the device will be very sensitive compared to current technology. We expect around two to four orders of magnitude improvement. It will also be small and leave a very small footprint. Once integrated, it will be the size of a hockey puck and can be placed discreetly in the environment.” – Juejun Hu

With further development, these “sensor on a chip” devices could be networked together in the field via a wireless connection, and allow for real-time detection of organic, inorganic, and biological molecular species present at low levels at those locations.

“We’ll be able to continuously monitor environmental pollutants, so we’ll know if water in a stream is getting polluted or if a chemical plant is leaking. We can also use it to detect toxic leaks in industrial plants.” – Hu

While the technology is still immature, eventually these sensors could be integrated into other fields, such as medicine, where they may be able to help with diagnostics by analyzing the breath of a patient for trace molecules present during certain diseases.

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