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This handheld chemical analyzer connects to smartphones

| By Scott Jenkins

A new smartphone-operated portable chemical analyzer provides a platform for chemical leak detection and other industrial applications, according to developer MyDx Inc. (San Diego, Calif.; The company designed the handheld analyzer for consumers, but the technology platform has origins in the space program and could be used in industry.

The initial rollout of the MyDx product is aimed at the medical marijuana industry, where it will be used by growers and users to quickly test levels of cannabinoids (including THC) and other compounds in cannabis plants. The company plans to follow its cannabis product with other sensors, using the same platform for detecting chemicals in water and air samples, including CO, NH3, NO2 and others.

The analyzer is equipped with conducting polymer receptors that are chemically functionalized to bind to specific target molecules. Binding induces expansion or contraction of the polymer, thereby changing resistance in associated electrical circuitry. Resistance changes correspond to levels of the target molecule.

The device works by inserting a disposable, sample-containing cartridge, where small air pumps pull vapor from the sample to the sensor surface. “The technology really is an electrical analog to the human sense of smell, where receptors detect specific molecules and the brain interprets the signal,” explains Daniel Yazbeck, the former Pfizer and Panasonic scientist who now heads MyDx. The analyzer relays data to iOS- and Android-based smartphones wirelessly, where a specialized app interprets the signal. Depending on the sensor and target, the analyzer can detect down to the parts-per-million or parts-per-billion level, and results can be obtained in three minutes, Yazbeck says.

The company licensed the sensor technology from the California Institute of Technology (Pasadena, Calif.;, which developed it in conjunction with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory for use as a chemical leak detector in the space shuttle program. n