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Electronic nose detects pesticides and nerve gas

An international team of researchers led by Ivo Stassen and Rob Ameloot from KU Leuven in Belgium have made it possible to detect pesticides and nerve gas in very low concentrations. The researchers have built a highly-sensitive electronic nose with metal-organic frameworks (MOFs).

“We created a MOF that absorbs the phosphonates found in pesticides and nerve gases. This means you can use it to find traces of chemical weapons such as sarin or to identify the residue of pesticides on food. This MOF is the most sensitive gas sensor to date for these dangerous substances.”

“[Furthermore], the concentrations we’re dealing with are extremely low: parts per billion – a drop of water in an Olympic swimming pool – and parts per trillion.”

The chemical sensor can easily be integrated into existing electronic devices, according to Professor Rob Ameloot.

“You can apply the MOF as a thin film over the surface of, for instance, an electric circuit. Therefore, it’s fairly easy to equip a smartphone with a gas sensor for pesticides and nerve gas.”

The professor added that because MOFs can measure such low concentrations, they could be used to screen someone’s breath for diseases such as lung cancer and MS in an early stage, or to find out whether food has gone bad and even to distinguish imitation wine from the original.

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