Sensors are used in our everyday life even though they seem to be out of our sight. There are motion sensors, acoustic sensors, electrical power sensors, distance sensors, mechanical sensors, and chemical sensors. Sensors are used in automobiles, machines, aircraft, medicine, industry, and robotics.
Nanotechnology researchers are now developing and improving upon chemical sensors, using nanoparticles. Chemical sensors detect the presence of very small amounts of specific chemical vapors or classes of chemicals.
You are probably familiar with a carbon monoxide detector. A carbon monoxide detector is a chemical sensor often used in the home. These detectors continually sample the air in the rooms and will sound an alarm if the invisible and odorless carbon monoxide levels become dangerous in the home and workplace.
Researchers now want to develop small, inexpensive sensors that can sniff out chemicals just as dogs do when they are used in airports to smell the vapors given off by explosives or drugs hidden in packages or in other containers. These small and inexpensive sensors can be placed throughout an airport, shopping mall, or building where security measures are needed, to check for vapors given off by explosive devices. These sensors can also be useful in industrial plants that use chemicals in manufacturing to detect the release of chemical vapors.
Using a chemical sensor to detect a chemical vapor is fine, but you want to be able to identify and analyze the gas vapor quickly. You want to know what it is. Is it OK to breathe? Is it dangerous? In 2005, researchers at the Naval Research Laboratory were able to detect minute amounts of sarin gas in under 4 seconds using a prototype nanotube gas sensor. Previous sensors
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Chemical sensors are used to improve quality control in the processing of various molten metals, including steel, aluminum, and zinc.
took over a minute to detect the same amount. If you are unfamiliar with sarin, it is known by its NATO designation of GB (O-Isopropyl methylphosphonofluoridate), an extremely toxic substance whose only application is as a nerve agent. As a chemical weapon, it is classified as a weapon of mass destruction by the United Nations. In 1995, there was a sarin gas attack on a Tokyo, Japan, subway that killed several people and injured many others.
In the future, nanotube chemical sensors can play an important role in security and environmental applications.
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