EECS Professor Akintunde Ibitayo Akinwande, working with MIT research scientist Luis Velasquez-Garcia in the Microsystems Technology Laboratories (MTL) has developed a tiny sensor that can detect minute quantities of hazardous gases, including toxic industrial chemicals and chemical warfare agents. The device will potentially be used to help protect water supplies, to aid in medical diagnostics in addition to detecting hazardous gases in the air.
Akinwande and Velasquez-Garcia presented their work at the International Electronic Devices Meeting in December, 2007, and plan to present this week to the IEEE Micro Electro Mechanical Systems (MEMS) 2008 conference. Akinwande leads an international team that includes scientists from the University of Cambridge, the University of Texas at Dallas, Clean Earth Technology and Raytheon, in addition to MIT.
What sets the Akinwande device apart from the current versions of portable gas chromatographs and mass spectrometers is size and speed of result. The scaling down will make them more adaptable in real-world situations for indoor or outdoor locations. Akinwande pointed out to the MIT News Office, the smaller size means less required power and greater sensitivity to trace amounts of gases. The new device consumes about four joules and produces results in about four seconds.
Batch- and high-precision microfabrication of the new device, allowing the detectors to be produced inexpensively, is projected in two years time.
The research, started three years ago, is funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center in Natick, Massachusetts.