Bowling Green, Kentucky. (WBKO) – Researchers at Western Kentucky University, in collaboration with California-based Adelphi Technology, have developed a portable electronic “sniffer” that can accurately detect gases in the air.
Both groups say the device has a wide range of uses, from agricultural innovations to bomb detection.
The researchers say the idea started with the concept of bug detection, a procedure that uses high-energy particles to scan sealed containers to find out what’s inside without opening them. From this, the researchers said they asked the question, “Can we chemically sniff out possible threats and identify molecular signatures in the air?”
The current prototype of the device was obtained from a recent Kentucky Small Business Innovation grant, which made the device suitable for agricultural purposes.
“Right now, the USDA and NOAA are very interested in food safety because they’re sniffing, you know, when there’s a contaminant in the food, they might do some on-farm monitoring,” says Dr. Adelphi Technology CEO Charles Gary.
The technology behind the device does exist today, but it will take time, resources and full chemistry lab access to do so. The researchers hope that by making the device portable, anyone will be able to accurately assess the quality of the air around them and be notified when pollutants may be present.
With the current focus on agriculture, the developers behind the research say the current Kentucky project is part of a project with NASA focused on growing fresh vegetables in space.
“Obviously the moon and Mars exploration is a big deal, but their biggest goal is to provide the astronauts with fresh fruit and vegetables in space, among other things, to make oxygen in space,” said one of the project’s researchers explain. “They wanted to create an ecosystem that was really close to our normal environment.”
The researchers say that before they can test the product in space, they must ensure it works as intended on Earth, assisting food safety.
“We’re also working with people who work in meat processing, poultry processing plants, testing prototypes in a two-year project and funding that project, and I hope at the end we’ll have a food-safe product,” Gary said.
While the researchers say the electronic sniffer has many undiscovered applications, they are rapidly approaching the device’s commercial availability and predict that the first food safety model could be ready by the end of 2023.
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