NASA is mostly interested in exploring things beyond this planet, but many of its innovations have found their way into our everyday lives. The latest development is a special chip that houses 32 nanosensor bars, reacting to a myriad of stimuli from the environment. It could diagnose cancer and measure blood sugar levels in diabetics with nothing more than a breath.
The implementation being demonstrated by Jing Li of NASA Ames has it as a cell phone case, looking very much like it would latch onto an iPhone. It could just as easily be adapted for other devices, of course. In a nutshell, there are 32 nanosensor bars on a chip about the size of a postage stamp. Each of these bars is composed of different nanostructure material, reacting to different chemicals in different ways and providing real-time monitoring.
Going back to the previous examples, there is a correlation between lung cancer and nitrous oxide. If the nanosensor bars detect elevated levels of nitrous oxide in a person’s breath, they could detect the cancer way ahead of time. Similarly, the level of acetone in a diabetic’s breath is correlated with their blood sugar level. No more need for those nasty finger pricks?
Naturally, NASA is exploring all sorts of other options too, including military applications. It was used on the International Space Station to monitor air quality and check for formaldehyde. The DoD is funding an application where soldiers could be outfitted with real-time detection of chemical threats. From a big brother perspective, the Department of Homeland Security could take a “big picture” look from the cell phones of citizens to assess the chemical threats in an area following some sort of disastrous event. The possibilities are endless.
And it looks close to production ready too. Who said science couldn’t be fun?