People have been trying to turn cellphones into medical and atmospheric scanners for some time now, but when it's NASA stepping up to the plate with a little device to monitor trace amounts of chemicals in the air, it's hard to not start thinking we might finally have a use for all those tricorder ringtones. Developed by a team of researchers at the Ames Research Center led by Jing Li, the device is a small chip that plugs into the bottom of an iPhone and uses 16 nanosensors to detect the concentration of gasses like ammonia, chlorine, and methane. To what purpose exactly this device will serve and why the relatively closed iPhone was chosen as a development platform are mysteries we're simply not capable of answering. Damn it, man, we're bloggers not scientists!
Update: George Yu, a developer who wrote this implementation for Jing Li, commented to let us know that the choice to go with the iPhone was made because it was "cool," but he soon realized that choice was a "horrible mistake." We're guessing that could have something to do with an apparent lack of wireless coverage at Ames if the above screenshot is anything to go by.