Chemical sensors: “Smart” ring for protection against external threats

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Wearables are now an integral part of the tech world. They not only measure all manner of vital data but are also becoming somewhat of a style trend. The latest invention is a new sensor designed for particularly hazardous applications.

The wearables market is worth billions. According to IDC, 24.7 million devices were purchased in the first quarter of this year alone, with Fitbit and smartwatches, etc. accounting for the lion’s share of sales. These cool, colorful wristbands and watches measure your heart rate and blood pressure, count the number of steps you take and can even stop you from snoring. Specialist wearable devices which can alert you to chemical or biological threats in the environment are considerably less lucrative.

However, that could all be about to change as demand is steadily growing. In order to be successful though, the sensors will have to be compact, non-invasive and affordable. Researchers at the University of California, San Diego, have therefore integrated their “chemical alarm” into a ring which sits neatly and fashionably on your finger. The 3D-printed housing contains an electrochemical sensor cap and the electronics for the data processing and wireless communication to a smartphone or laptop.

Chemical sensors measure electric currents

The ring can perform voltammetry and chronoamperometric analyses. The first is an electroanalytical method for the qualitative and quantitative analysis of the chemical composition of substances using current-potential curves. Chemical components lead to a sudden rise in current in the event of voltage which is typical for them. In chronoamperometry, however, chemical substances are identified using characteristic current-time curves.

Together, both processes cover a broad spectrum of chemical threats. Researchers have already tested the prototype with explosive mixtures and neurotoxic substances both in gaseous and liquid form, and the ring reacted very sensitively and selectively. Applications could be relatively easily expanded in the future to include dangerous environmental conditions of all kinds. In addition to individuals who work in safety and security sensitive environments, the police and the military as well as airport and train station staff could, in particular, benefit from using the sensor ring.


Chemical sensors (Image: University of California, San Diego)

This smart ring detects explosive and chemical threats. (Image: University of California, San Diego).