Arkansas State researchers patent trace detector

Two Arkansas State University inventors have received a U.S. patent for an apparatus designed to detect trace quantities of gases in the atmosphere.Susan Davis Allen, director of the Arkansas Center for Laser Applications and Science and distinguished professor, and Scott Reeve, senior...

Two Arkansas State University inventors have received a U.S. patent for an apparatus designed to detect trace quantities of gases in the atmosphere.

Susan Davis Allen, director of the Arkansas Center for Laser Applications and Science and distinguished professor, and Scott Reeve, senior scientist with ACLAS and chemistry professor, were awarded a method and apparatus patent in August for "multi-color cavity ringdown-based detection."

According to a brief abstract, a multi-color cavity ringdown-based spectrometer is a device housed in a light-tight enclosure to detect trace quantities of gas phase molecules emanating from explosives, drugs or hazardous materials.

Its inventors say the device could have many applications. For example, it could detect the level of formaldehyde in homes or trailers. The chemical is used in manufacturing building materials, and toxic levels were found in many of the Federal Emergency Management Agency trailers purchased after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005.

The new tool sort of acts like a super-sensitive nose, detecting minute particles in the air, Reeve said. Once perfected, such a device could be used for breath analysis to detect alcohol, Allen added.

It also could be used to detect biomarkers indicating the likelihood of breast cancer, Reeve said. His hope is that one day women can breathe into a tube, and based on that breath analysis, doctors could determine the likelihood of the patient developing breast cancer. If there is a high chance, further testing would be done. Breathing or skin respiration could be used to analyze a person's body.

The inventors' patented tool could also be used to detect components of explosive devices, they said.

"It analyzes vapors," Allen said. "Anything with vapors can be detected by this technology." Reeve and Allen said they found out just how efficient the machine is one day when a leak was discovered. Reeve said he put his finger over the input valve as a blocker. A signal indicated a low concentration of ammonia on his finger.

Researchers at ASU have been working on the project since 2005. Because no direct funding is available to move the project forward, Allen said the next step is to seek funding from a medical device company that would support the development of a prototype.

The plan is to have a spin-off company called DiagNose to seek funding for the prototype. The ultimate goal is to license the technology, Allen said.

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Information from: The Jonesboro Sun, http://www.jonesborosun.com

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