NASA Scientist Converts iPhone into Chemical Sniffer

A new plug-in iPhone device can detect airborne ammonia, chlorine gas and methane

Cell phones have increasingly become mobile labs and tech tools for researchers, and now NASA has gotten in on the act. A postage-stamp-sized chemical sensor allows iPhones to sniff out low airborne concentrations of chemicals such as ammonia, chlorine gas and methane.

A puff from a “sample jet” helps sense any airborne chemicals. That information gets processed by a silicon chip consisting of 16 nanosensors, and then passes on to another phone or computer through any Wi-Fi or telecom network.

The gadget add-on comes courtesy of Jing Li, a physical scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California. She developed the proof of concept with other researchers as part of Homeland Security’s Cell-All program, which aims to put more mobile sensors in the hands of every cell phone user.

Such sensors could alert first responders early if there’s a chemical accident or attack, even if the unfortunate cell phone user has already passed out.

This seems like a great addition to other cell phone tools such as off-the-shelf microscopes and watchful heart monitors. And we daresay that it’s even cooler than NASA’s first iPhone app, which streams NASA news to your smart phone.

[NASA via Computerworld]