A team of chemical engineers recently came up with a completely new approach to create chemical sensors that are employed for detect explosives, diseases, and pollutants across various parts of the world. The new concept designed by the team permits them to tune the sensor parts for various chemicals that help in formation of cheaper and more impactful sensors. The concept used by this team uses liquid-crystal-based chemical sensors that employ a technology similar to the one used in LCD TVs. These consist of salt anions, cations, molecules, and solvents that formulate liquid crystals.
These sensors work with nematic liquid crystals that are anchored to a thin metal salt layer; all are oriented in same direction. If the metal cations and liquid crystals are designed in manner, small quantities of target chemical with disturb the interactions that take place between the film surface and liquid crystals messing with complete ordered arrangement. Though the basic principle is pretty straightforward, the main challenge is with accurate designing of metal cations and crystal molecules. In order to target a particular chemical substance, the liquid crystal sensor component needs to be optimized specifically.
In order to solve this problem the researchers adopted a first principles approach. In place of using the tedious trial and error process, these engineers used quantum chemical modeling along with computer simulations before going for laboratory experiments. Researcher Manos Mavrikakis, “This is indeed the first time that computational chemistry with quantum mechanics has been used to put together a coherent way of thinking for narrowing down possible solutions for an explosively complicated problem.” The same approach could have speeded up chemical sensors development for various analytes. The main benefit of liquid crystal sensors is that these are very economical as compared to the normal sensors, the ones that depend on mass spectrometry or the high-performance liquid chromatography.
Chemical sensors, oxygen tanks and other equipment inside a case during a joint chemical warfare training session by U.S. soldiers and marines at Camp Buehring, Kuwait.
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