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Scientists have created a miniature sensor from an unconventional material capable of detecting hazardous gases like formaldehyde found in various household and office items. Utilizing artificial intelligence, this sensor can identify minute quantities of formaldehyde, an odorless gas present in numerous everyday products.

Researchers develop sensors to detect formaldehyde molecules

A novel sensor, crafted from aerogel, a remarkably light solid with a composition of over 99% air, is dubbed “frozen smoke.” Through precise manipulation of the aerogel’s microscopic pores, researchers enhanced its ability to capture formaldehyde molecules. Additionally, the aerogel incorporates graphene and semiconductors to convert chemical signals into electronic ones.

The lead researcher, Dr. Tawfique Hasan from the Cambridge Graphene Centre, highlights the health risks associated with VOCs like formaldehyde, even at low concentrations. Existing sensors lack the sensitivity and selectivity to differentiate between VOCs with varying health impacts. The researchers’ objective was to develop a cost-effective sensor with low power consumption capable of detecting minute quantities of specific gases such as formaldehyde.

Formaldehyde, emitted by various everyday items such as wood products, paints, fabrics, and wallpapers, can lead to health issues like watery eyes, breathing difficulties, asthma attacks, and cancer with prolonged exposure. While household levels are typically low, accumulation can occur, particularly in areas like garages with formaldehyde-releasing products.

Aerogel sensor detects formaldehyde at low levels

A new aerogel sensor has been developed that detects formaldehyde levels as low as 8 parts per billion, surpassing safety standards, and operates at room temperature, consuming significantly less power compared to other sensors. This advancement paves the way for potential integration into portable, wearables.

Moreover, through the utilization of machine learning algorithms, the sensor can differentiate formaldehyde from similar gases, enhancing its specificity. Unlike existing VOC detectors that provide a single overall concentration reading, this sensor offers real-time detection of specific VOCs at low concentrations, providing home and business owners with a more precise assessment of air quality and associated health risks. Engineers at Warwick University are developing a multi-sensor device using these materials to monitor multiple volatile organic compounds (VOCs) simultaneously.