A big driver for the future directions of chemical sensing is the military. Funding agencies like the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) have big dreams for what chemical sensing might be able to do for its armed forces. Imagine being able to put a sensor on the top of a tent in a war zone that can detect explosives or toxic gases 4 miles (6 kilometers) away.
Or picture a sensor that is so tiny, it can be embedded into fabrics. When the sensor detects a toxic agent, the color of the fabric changes, alerting soldiers to the presence of chemical toxins in the air. What about a sensor that could to alert soldiers to their dehydration levels? The implications for such technology would not only be the upper hand in battle, but also save potentially thousands of lives.
Chemicals also could be placed in airports to help stop terrorism by detecting minute concentrations of explosives without us having to undergo the extensive hassles of the security lines. In fact, scientists have already unveiled a sensor that can rapidly detect drugs and explosives close to 100 feet (30 meters) away with airports in mind [source: Engineering360]. These sensors could be installed at airport entrances and other places with large groups of people. Some types of chemical sensing devices can even be attached to cell phones to scan larger areas as law enforcement officials move around [source: Hsu].
Of course, chemical sensors don't only need to be used to divert nefarious activities. Detecting metals contaminants in water and possibly toxic chemicals in the air via sensors in security badges are just some of the ways that chemical sensing devices are changing our world.
Author's Note: How Chemical Sensing Devices Work
Nanoparticle sensors sewn into fabric that could tell me more about myself or the air around me? This is seriously the stuff of sci-fi. Except it's not. Maybe the military is the one pushing the research forward on things like this, but soon after soldiers start using it, it'll be commonplace for the rest of us. Gives wearable technology a whole new meaning.
More Great Links
- Bender, Eric. "Chemical sensing on a chip." MIT News. April 8, 2016. (Nov. 2, 2016) http://news.mit.edu/2016/chemical-sensing-chip-anuradha-agarwal-0408
- Black, Angela. "How Carbon Monoxide Detectors Work." HowStuffWorks.com. Dec. 30, 2008. (Nov. 2, 2016) https://home.howstuffworks.com/home-improvement/household-safety/tips/carbon-monoxide-detector.htm
- Brain, Marshall. "How Smoke Detectors Work." HowStuffWorks.com. April 1, 2000. (Nov. 2, 2016) https://home.howstuffworks.com/home-improvement/household-safety/fire/smoke.htm
- Brain, Marshall and Freudenrich, Craig. "How Radon Works." HowStuffWorks.com. Oct. 4, 2000. (Nov. 2, 2016) https://home.howstuffworks.com/home-improvement/household-safety/tips/radon.htm
- Engineering360. "High-Speed Chemical Sensor Could Aid Airport Security." Aug. 29, 2016. (Nov. 4, 2016) http://insights.globalspec.com/article/3146/high-speed-chemical-sensor-could-aid-airport-security
- Hsu, Jeremy. "Smartphones Could Form Chemical Detection Networks." LiveScience. Nov. 27, 2009. (Nov. 4, 2016) http://www.livescience.com/5915-smartphones-form-chemical-detection-networks.html
- Mahmood, Tahrin and Yang, Ping-Chang. "Western Blot: Technique, Theory, and Trouble Shooting." North American Journal of Medical Sciences. Vol. 4. No. 9. 429-434. Sept. 2012. (Nov. 4, 2016) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3456489/
- Millstone, Jill. associate professor of chemistry, University of Pittsburgh. Personal Interview. Oct. 25, 2016.
- National Research Council. "Expanding the Vision of Sensor Materials." The National Academies Press. 1995. https://www.nap.edu/read/4782/chapter/1
- Parents Magazine. "How do pregnancy tests work?" 2009. (Nov. 3, 2016) http://www.parents.com/advice/pregnancy-birth/getting-pregnant/how-do-pregnancy-tests-work/
- ThermoFisher Scientific. "Overview of ELISA." (Nov. 4, 2016) https://www.thermofisher.com/us/en/home/life-science/protein-biology/protein-biology-learning-center/protein-biology-resource-library/pierce-protein-methods/overview-elisa.html