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Thumb-sized device quickly 'sniffs out' bad breath

2021-07-21
(Press-News.org) No one wants bad breath -- not when visiting friends and family, at a job interview, and especially not on a first date. Smelly breath can make things awkward, but it also is a natural warning sign, indicating that serious dental issues are occurring. Now, researchers reporting in ACS Nano have constructed a portable, thumb-sized device that diagnoses bad breath by quickly "sniffing" exhalations for the gas that makes it stinky -- hydrogen sulfide.

Because most people can't smell their own breath, they need to ask someone else, which can be embarrassing and awkward. Some devices measure small amounts of stinky hydrogen sulfide, but they require exhaled air to be collected and tested on expensive instruments in a lab, which is not feasible for consumers. Previous studies have shown that when some metal oxides react with sulfur-containing gases, their electrical conductivity changes. And when metal oxides are paired with noble metal catalysts, they can become more sensitive and selective. So, to develop a small, real-time bad-breath analyzer, Kak Namkoong, Il-Doo Kim and colleagues wanted to find the right combination of substances that would elicit the fastest and strongest response to hydrogen sulfide in air blown directly onto it.

The researchers mixed sodium chloride (an alkali metal salt) and platinum (a noble metal catalyst) nanoparticles with tungsten, and electrospun the solution into nanofibers that they heated, converting the tungsten into its metal oxide form. In preliminary tests, the composite made from equal parts of each metal had the largest reactivity to hydrogen sulfide, which the team measured as a large decrease in electrical resistance in less than 30 seconds. Although this nanofiber reacted with a few sulfur-containing gases, it was most sensitive to hydrogen sulfide, creating a response 9.5 and 2.7 times greater than with dimethyl sulfide or methyl mercaptan, respectively. Finally, the team coated interdigitated gold electrodes with the nanofibers and combined the gas sensor with humidity, temperature and pressure sensors into a small prototype device that was about the size of a human thumb. The device correctly identified bad breath 86% of the time when real breaths from people were exhaled directly onto it. The researchers say that their sensor could be incorporated into very small devices for quick and easy self-diagnosis of bad breath.

The authors acknowledge funding from the National Research Foundation of Korea and the Nano Convergence Foundation.

The abstract that accompanies this article is available here.

For more of the latest research news, register for our upcoming meeting, ACS Fall 2021. Journalists and public information officers are encouraged to apply for complimentary press registration by emailing us at newsroom@acs.org.

The American Chemical Society (ACS) is a nonprofit organization chartered by the U.S. Congress. ACS' mission is to advance the broader chemistry enterprise and its practitioners for the benefit of Earth and all its people. The Society is a global leader in promoting excellence in science education and providing access to chemistry-related information and research through its multiple research solutions, peer-reviewed journals, scientific conferences, eBooks and weekly news periodical Chemical & Engineering News. ACS journals are among the most cited, most trusted and most read within the scientific literature; however, ACS itself does not conduct chemical research. As a leader in scientific information solutions, its CAS division partners with global innovators to accelerate breakthroughs by curating, connecting and analyzing the world's scientific knowledge. ACS' main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.

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[Press-News.org] Thumb-sized device quickly 'sniffs out' bad breath