Silicon sensor roots out illness

Scientists in Northern Ireland have developed the first silicon-based sensor suitable for oral gas analysis and a wide range of other applications.

Scientists from the Northern Ireland Bioengineering Centre (NIBC) have developed the first silicon-based sensor that is said to be suitable for oral gas analysis and a wide range of other applications.

The low-cost device is said to enable medics to analyse gases in human breath in real-time, providing early indications of potentially life threatening conditions including cirrhosis, lung cancer and diabetes.

Incorporating plasma optical emission and neural network technologies, it consists of thousands of micro spectrophotometers on a single chip complete with power cells and dsp circuitry.

According to Professor James McLaughlin, assistant head of the NIBC, conventional gas sensing devices have employed methods based on polymer, metal oxide, UV or IR technologies.

‘These types of sensor tend to give inaccurate results, wear out within a matter of a few months and are expensive to produce,’ said McLaughlin. ‘Proboscis, on the other hand, is likely to cost less than US $50 and will last indefinitely due to the large number of individual miniature spectrophotometers incorporated in it.’

NIBC are currently working on miniaturising the system using silicon micro-machining, MEMs-based engineering and plasma display technologies.

‘The device has an enormous number of potential uses. Dairy companies could use it to monitor remotely the quality of milk produced on farms. It could also be used as the basis of an intelligent fire alarm which would indicate the cause of a fire and it could be incorporated in high security access systems to prevent unauthorised entry,’ added McLaughlin.