Sandia Labs has announced that it has developed a novel new air sampler the size of an ear plug that it says will allow for cheap and easy collection of atmospheric samples, in addition to increasing data reliability for airborne industrial gas detection and point-of-contact medicine.
The innovative new sensor is designed to prevent contamination of samples before they reach the lab by employing a commonly used alloy to house an inexpensive microvalve situated above the sample chamber.
After a gas sample is taken, this alloy is heated, whereupon it melts and flows, blocking the inlet hole. When cooled, the alloy resolidifies into an impermeable block, sealing the gas sample inside the inert chamber.
The air sampling sensor is designed to be light and inexpensive to fabricate, while remaining tough and durable. It is this combination of characteristics that Sandia Labs anticipates should see its widespread distribution in a number of fields.
In particular, the simple nature of the sensor's design means it could travel in unmanned aerial vehicles or as unmonitored cargo in atmospheric balloons, providing better, more reliable measurements to be used in the development of climate models.
Sandia Labs has also noted potential applications for the phase change micro-valve sensor in the geosciences, where its small size could allow for easier sampling of conditions deep below the surface of the earth.
In point-of-care medicine, Sandia suggests the sensors could be used as an alternative to blood tests, allowing doctors to simply sample a person's breath to diagnose potential problems.
Funding for the development of this new air sampling sensor came from Sandia’s Laboratory Directed Research and Development (LDRD) program.