Monday, August 24, 2009

Nanotubes Used in Oxygen Sensor

An experimental device that can monitor oxygen levels using nanotubes has been developed at the University of Pittsburgh and researchers think it represents a major step forward. The researchers were able to fill the tubes, which are 100-thousand times smaller than a human hair, with a substance that glows when it comes in contact with oxygen. Pitt graduate student and lead author Douglas Kauffman says they then passed an electrical current through the tubes which gave them an accurate reading of oxygen levels in a room. He says oxygen sensors have been around for years but can only be used for limited applications because they usually only work at high temperatures and with big power demands. Kauffman says right now the device used in the lab is still a bit bulky but he feels it can easily be scaled own to something that can be mounted on a watch or helmet and run by a small battery. Kauffman says he sees several commercial applications for the technology from sensing low oxygen levels in mines and industrial settings to monitoring oxygen levels on space ships. He says the oxygen-induced glow that comes from the material is not important to the detector but it could serve as a good backup indicator. The research was published in last week’s online edition of “Nature Chemistry.”

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