What's better than a handful of sensors for determining if some hostile enemy has set off chemical weapons in a city? How about hundreds of thousands or millions of sensors? If research being done by NASA Ames Research Center under the Cell-All program in the US Department of Homeland Security's Science and Technology Directorate is taken into production, your next smartphone might contain chemical-sensing circuitry.
A recent article in OnOrbit described a proof of concept that was developed by Jing Li, a scientist at Ames, and a group of other researchers. In order to test out the tiny nanosensor-based chemical sensing circuitry, Li and his team created a device that plugs into the dock port of an iPhone.
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A newer version of the sensor has 64 nanosensors built-in and is less than 1 cm on a side. Isn't it cool that your iPhone is getting to be more like a Star Trek tricorder every day?The new device is able to detect and identify low concentrations of airborne ammonia, chlorine gas and methane. The device senses chemicals in the air using a "sample jet" and a multiple-channel silicon-based sensing chip, which consists of 16 nanosensors, and sends detection data to another phone or a computer via telephone communication network or Wi-Fi.