Additional Participants

Senior Personnel

Habtom Ressom

Mauricio Pereira da Cunha

Bruce Segee

Silvia Nittel

Graduate Student

Amol Shirke

Aaron Clark

Daesha More

Bennett Meulendyk

Samuel Winchenbach

Guang Jin

Undergraduate Student

John DeAngelis

Tyler Seekins

John Hessler

Raymond Whitney

Research Experience for Undergraduates

David Haluska

John White

Brendon Beote

Organizational Partners

NIST/Process Measurments Division

Project Period

September 2008-August 2009

Level of Access

Open-Access Report

Grant Number


Submission Date



Selective, sensitive, and reliable sensors are urgently needed to detect air-borne halogenated volatile organic compounds (VOCs). This broad class of compounds includes chlorine, fluorine, bromine, and iodine containing hydrocarbons used as solvents, refrigerants, herbicides, and more recently as chemical warfare agents (CWAs). It is important to be able to detect very low concentrations of halocarbon solvents and insecticides because of their acute health effects even in very low concentrations. For instance, the nerve agent sarin (isopropyl methylphosphonofluoridate), first developed as an insecticide by German chemists in 1938, is so toxic that a ten minute exposure at an airborne concentration of only 65 parts per billion (ppb) can be fatal. Sarin became a household term when religious cult members on Tokyo subway trains poisoned over 5,500 people, killing 12. Sarin and other CWAs remain a significant threat to the health and safety of the general public.

The goal of this project is to design a sensor system to detect and identify the composition and concentration of fluorinated VOCs. The system should be small, robust, compatible with metal oxide semiconductor (MOS) technology, cheap, if produced in large scale, and has the potential to be versatile in terms of low power consumption, detection of other gases, and integration in a portable system. The proposed VOC sensor system has three major elements that will be integrated into a microreactor flow cell: a temperature-programmable microhotplate array/reactor system which serves as the basic sensor platform; an innovative acoustic wave sensor, which detects material removal (instead of deposition) to verify and quantify the presence of fluorine; and an intelligent method, "support vector machines," that will analyze the complex and high dimensional data furnished by the sensor system. The superior and complementary aspects of the three elements will be carefully integrated to create a system which is more sensitive and selective than other CWA detection systems that are commercially available or described in the research literature. While our sensor system will be developed to detect fluorinated VOCs, it can be adapted for other applications in which a target analyte can be catalytically converted for selective detection. Therefore, this investigation will examine the relationships between individual sensor element performance and joint sensor platform performance, integrated with state-of-the-art data analysis techniques. During development of the sensor system, the investigators will consider traditional reactor design concepts such as mass transfer and residence time effects, and will apply them to the emerging field of microsystems. The proposed research will provide the fundamental basis and understanding for examining multifunctional sensor platforms designed to provide extreme selectivity to targeted molecules. The project will involve interdisciplinary researchers and students and will connect to K-12 and RET programs for underrepresented students from rural areas.