Oklahoma-based Airotect has developed a new personal air-sampling wearable badge capable of detecting over 100 volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the air.
This credit-card-sized system contains a new type of silica which can detect an unprecedented range of airborne toxins when attached to someone’s shirt or placed in a pocket.
VOCs are a major source of air pollution. The compounds originate from numerous household products, as well as from fuels such as gasoline and from industrial processes.
Depending on which VOCs someone encounters and their level of exposure, one could get a nasal irritation or even cancer in the long run.
According to the company’s co-founder and Oklahoma State University professor Allen Apblett, the Airotect system was primarily funded by the U.S. military to better understand the health threats its personnel face.
Beyond military usage, the device could benefit workplaces and homes that account for a unique set of airborne compounds – including unseen potential hazards.
The new material is a silica with nanoscale pores contained within a roughly credit-card-sized badge that attaches to clothes.
The silica, Known as OSU-6 the silica was developed by a graduate student in Apblett’s lab. It binds VOCs in its tiny pores through normally weak electrical attractions, known as van der Waals forces.
The tight curvature of OSU-6’s nanopores significantly enhances these forces, making it possible to bind VOCs much more strongly than the industry standard.
Because these bonds are physical and not chemical in nature, they allow the material to latch onto a wide range of compounds.
According to Apblett, when in use, the badge is opened to expose three OSU-6-filled tubes to the air: The length of time it’s worn depends largely on the potential exposures.
Afterward, the badge is sent to a lab where the VOC-laden material is warmed to release the compounds so the researchers can identify and quantify them.
Apblett and his colleagues at Airotect have so far tested the material’s ability to detect well over 100 compounds in lab-based experiments.
They also found that OSU-6 stabilizes unstable or reactive compounds, making it more feasible to analyze traditionally difficult-to-monitor reactive compounds.
Image and content: Airotect/American Chemical Society