Researchers in Austria have developed the world’s smallest particle detector. The detector is so small that it could bring particle detection to the palms, wrists, and pockets of the general public, thus informing users of real-time localized fine dust and particle content in the air. To create the device, the researchers used established methods in the development of conventional measuring devices alongside cutting-edge fabrication and integration techniques.
With this 12 x 9 x 3-millimeter innovation, smartphones, smartwatches or fitness wristbands can for the first time measure the quality of the ambient air in real-time and sound the alarm in the event of increased fine dust values, reports Eureka Alert.
The sensor was developed by Paul Maierhofer as part of his dissertation at the Institute of Electrical Measurement and Sensor Systems at Graz University of Technology together with experts from the semiconductor manufacturer ams AG and with researchers from Silicon Austria Labs (SAL). The innovation is the miniaturization itself, as Maierhofer explains: “The sensor is right at the limit of what is physically and technically feasible and involves a lot of tricks to function at this size.”
Adapting behavior to ambient air
The immense social benefit of this new innovative particle sensor is obvious. According to a study by the European Environment Agency (EEA), over 400,000 people die prematurely every year in Europe alone as a result of particulate matter pollution. With the help of wearables equipped with the new particle sensor, each and every individual can monitor the ambient air and react immediately in the case of health-endangering fine dust values. “For example, by avoiding particularly polluted routes when jogging or on the daily commute to work,” says Alexander Bergmann, head of the Institute of Electrical Measurement and Sensor Systems at TU Graz and doctoral supervisor of Paul Maierhofer.
Improving air quality
Not only in wearables, the sensor can also be integrated in local applications – both in the home and outdoors – and thus provides an unprecedented variety of measured values. Bergmann is convinced that this represents a break from the past in air quality monitoring: “Close-meshed and comprehensive monitoring of air quality has so far failed due to the size, complexity and cost of currently available measuring sensors. Our particle sensor fills a gap here.” The data obtained can serve as a basis for further regulatory measures and raise public awareness of the particulate matter problem.
The series production aimed at by semiconductor manufacturer ams is intended to achieve a price that is significantly lower than the currently available sensors. ams is an international leader in the development and manufacture of high-performance sensor solutions.