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Airborne chemicals can now be instantly identified Scientists at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore) have developed a device that can identify a wide range of airborne gases and chemicals instantly.

D

laboratory technique called gas chromatography– mass spectrometry (GC-MS), which is reliable but requires tedious sample collection and takes between a few hours and a few days to obtain results.

escribed in the journal ACS Nano,

By contrast, the new device utilises Raman

the prototype device is portable and suitable for

spectroscopy — a long-established technique for

rapid deployment by agencies to identify airborne

identifying chemical substances. Typically, this has

hazards, such as from tiny gas molecules like sulfur

been used only on solid and liquid samples, since

dioxide. It can also identify larger compound

gaseous chemicals are too diluted for the laser and

molecules such as benzene, known to be harmful

detector to pick up.

to human health. It could thus provide real-time

To overcome this limitation, Associate

monitoring of air quality such as during haze

Professor Ling Xing Yi and PhD student

outbreaks, and assist in the detection of gas leaks

Phan Quang Gia Chuong developed a special

and industrial air pollution.

nanostructure patch made from a highly

Emergency scenarios require a fast and ongoing

porous synthetic material known as a metal-

analysis of potential air contamination, such as

organic framework, which actively absorbs and

following a natural disaster, chemical spill or

traps molecules from the air into a ‘cage’. The

illegal dumping of toxic waste, so that emergency

nanostructure also contains metal nanoparticles,

responders can take appropriate action. Current

which boost the intensity of the light surrounding

methods of identifying gases in the air use a

the molecules.

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