There’s Something in the Air

Posted by Ken Lynch on Wed, Oct 13, 2010 @ 05:00 AM

RFID Detects Airborne Toxins

GE SensorIf only manufacturers and their plant workers had access to innovative solutions like this decades ago so they could avoid breathing harmful asbestos and other cancer-causing airborne toxins.

GE Global Research won an award for its “Wearable Organic Electronic Film RFID Sensors for Monitoring of Airborne Toxicants,” by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. The goal of their research was to develop a sensor for chemical and biological detection in complex environments. The impetus for this development was that existing sensors would yield inaccurate readings and false positives in these types of environments, rendering them ineffective. The team set out to develop a sensor that would give more accurate readings.  

They succeeded.

A new battery-free RFID-based transducer platform uses low cost, passive RFID sensors for chemical monitoring and analysis. Through a coated sensing film, the RFID sensor helps identify and quantify volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in complex environments. Complex environments can be air in the workplace, in a city or in a battlefield, for example.

The detection and isolation of certain toxins is achieved by the combination of: recognition of vapors by the sensing film; the new design of sensor transducer to fully probe the vapor-film interactions; and multivariate analysis of the data from the RFID antenna structure.

What does this mean for you?

Based on their successful project, the research team is now developing a prototype for a wearable, wireless, passive RFID sensor system. Because the sensors are very small, they can be part of a person’s identification badge and warn them as they enter an area with harmful toxins that are not otherwise detected by human senses. And if it can be used to detect a toxin, it can most likely be used to detect changing levels of oxygen to help workers stay away from danger zones.  

The biggest potential breakthrough with this invention could very well be its ability to serve as an early warning sign for diseases. By analyzing exhaled air from medical patients, the sensors can identify volatile biomarkers for diseases like diabetes, emphysema and metabolic disorders.

Now that’s our kind of invention.  We’ll be anxiously awaiting the next phase of the project. 

[Photo credit: GE Global Research]

Tags: RFID, Sensors, Environmental Monitoring

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