Nanotechnology as a discipline is bleeding-edge cool, but so often we hear more about its amazing potential than its practical application. So it’s always refreshing to catch wind of a story like this: Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York have developed and demonstrated a small, relatively inexpensive, and reusable sensor made of graphene foam that far outperforms commercial gas sensors on the market today and could lead to better explosives detectors and environmental sensors in the very near future.
The new sensor dispenses with a lot of the limitations that have been holding back sensors in this space. In the last several years, many strides have been made in the science of manipulating nanostructures to be excellent detectors of very fine trace elements of chemicals on the air. But these sensors, while great in theory, are impractical in actual service.
Current sensor designs are complex, often relying on an individual nanostructure that must be carefully manipulated and even more carefully analyzed. They are often not reusable and must be deployed at specific temperatures or pressures, making a handheld sensor device unreliable, very expensive, and impossible to use repeatedly.