Scientists agree that air pollution shortens the lives of many Europeans every year, but they have a hard time accurately measuring it. Now, thanks to new sensor technology developed at Sweden’s Chalmers University of Technology, pinpointing air pollution and calculating its effects may become much easier.
This new optical nano-sensor detects nitrogen dioxide concentrations down to the parts-per-billion level. The underlying concept is an optimal phenomenon called a plasmon, which has to do with plasma oscillation in physics. Scientists use the sensors to detect illuminated metal nanoparticles absorbing certain wavelengths of light— by which they can measure pollution.
The World Health Organization estimates that air pollution causes 550,000 premature deaths in Europe annually and 7 million worldwide. “Air pollution is a global health problem,” says Chalmers researcher Irem Tanyeli, who helped develop the sensors. “To be able to contribute to increased knowledge and a better environment feels great. With the help of these small, portable sensors, it can become both simpler and cheaper to measure dangerous emissions extremely accurately.”
The university research team worked with the Gothenburg-based company Insplorion— co-founded by Christoph Langhammer, a Chalmers physics professor— to bring the sensors out of the lab and onto the streets of Gothenburg. “This is a great example of how a university and a company can collaborate. Both parties contribute with their expertise to create a new product, contributing to a more sustainable society,” said Langhammer. Sensors are already installed on the roof of a huge Gothenburg shopping mall and will soon be placed along a local railway tunnel construction project.
The sensors can also be calibrated to measure other gases. “Nitrogen dioxide is just one of the many substances which can be detected with the help of optical nanosensors. There are great opportunities for this type of technology,” said Langhammer. Companies and universities inside and outside Sweden have already been in contact to see if the nano-sensors could help their aims.
Images via Chalmers University of Technology