small plans: nanotechnology for the building industry

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Wireless sensors sniff out toxins

While nanotechnology is transforming the materials buildings are made from, there’s another more subtle revolution underway as well. It’s in the area of remote sensing, which could have a big impact on controlling Sick Building Syndrome, improving building security, and the operation of appliances and HVAC systems.

Thanks to nanotechnology, sensors are becoming so small that we can monitor many conditions in buildings in ways never possible before. Dr. Kensall Wise, Director of the Center for Wireless Integrated MicroSystems at the University of Michigan calls wireless integrated microsystems (WMS) "the final frontier in the pervasiveness of microelectronics.”

He’s working on a micropower environmental monitor for the precision analysis of gaseous materials. This wristwatch-sized device can detect the presence of toxic gasses at the level of just 100 parts per trillion. It can also monitor temperature, humidity, pressure and more. It can recognize the presence of mustard gas in a building’s air supply in just 4 seconds.

Oh, and microsensors can sniff out money too. US border security officials sponsored the development of a sensor at the University of Michigan that detects the gasses given off by the ink on paper bills, making it easier to catch currency smugglers.

Wise presented his findings in “Wireless Integrated Microsystems (WMS): Coming Revolution in the Gathering of Information” at the Nano Science and Technology conference in Boston. (photo University of Michigan)

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