Innovative NFC sensor can transmit information on hazardous chemicals, food spoilage to smartphone

Detecting
the hazardous gases and substances now becomes easy with a new innovative NFC
sensor which transmits information and data to smartphone. MIT chemists have
devised a new way to wirelessly detect hazardous gases and environment
pollutants, using a simple sensor that can be read by a smartphone. These
inexpensive sensors could be widely deployed, making it easier to monitor
public spaces or detect food spoilage in warehouses. Using this system, the
researchers have demonstrated that they can detect gaseous ammonia, hydrogen
peroxide, and cyclohexanone, among other gases.

“The
beauty of these sensors is that they are really cheap. You put them up, they
sit there, and then you come around and read them. There’s no wiring involved.
There’s no power,” says Timothy Swager, the John D. MacArthur Professor of
Chemistry at MIT. “You can get quite imaginative as to what you might want to
do with a technology like this.”

Swager
is the senior author of a paper describing the new sensors in the Proceedings of the National Academy of
Sciences
the week of Dec. 8. Chemistry graduate student Joseph Azzarelli is
the paper’s lead author; other authors are postdoc Katherine Mirica and former
MIT postdoc Jens Ravnsbaek.

For
several years, Swager’s lab has been developing gas-detecting sensors based on
devices known as chemiresistors, which consist of simple electrical circuits
modified so that their resistance changes when exposed to a particular
chemical. Measuring that change in resistance reveals whether the target gas is
present. Unlike commercially available chemiresistors, the sensors developed in
Swager’s lab require almost no energy and can function at ambient temperatures.
“This would allow us to put sensors in many different environments or in many
different devices,” Swager says.

The
new sensors are made from modified near-field communication (NFC) tags. These
tags, which receive the little power they need from the device reading them,
function as wirelessly addressable barcodes and are mainly used for tracking
products such as cars or pharmaceuticals as they move through a supply chain,
such as in a manufacturing plant or warehouse. NFC tags can be read by any
smartphone that has near-field communication capability, which is included in
many newer spartphone models. These phones can send out short pulses of
magnetic fields at radio frequency (13.56 megahertz), inducing an electric
current in the circuit on the tag, which relays information to the phone.

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