Electronic nose using CMOS integrated circuits analyzes breath

Researchers at the Texas Analog Center of Excellence(TxACE), a Semiconductor Research Corporation(SRC)-funded research effort centered at the University of Texas at Dallas (UT Dallas), are working to develop an affordable electronic nose that can be used in breath analysis for a wide range of health diagnosis.

While devices that can conduct breath analysis using compound semiconductors currently exist, they are bulky and too costly for commercial use, said Dr. Kenneth O, one of the principle investigators of the effort and director of TxACE. The UT Dallas researchers and collaborators at the Ohio State University and Wright State University determined that using CMOS integrated circuits technology will make the electronic nose affordable. CMOS is the integrated circuits technology that is used to manufacture the bulk of electronics that have made possible the smartphones, tablets and other electronic devices used in daily life.

Their research on the CMOS electronic nose was presented today in a paper entitled 200-280GHz CMOS Transmitter for Rotational Spectroscopy and Demonstration in Gas Spectroscopy and Breath Analysis, at the 2016 IEEE Symposia on VLSI Technology and Circuits in Hawaii.

“Smell is one of the senses of humans and animals, and there have been many efforts to build an electronic nose,” said Dr. Navneet Sharma, the lead author of paper. “We have demonstrated that you can build an affordable electronic nose that can sense many different kinds of smells. When you’re smelling something, you are detecting chemical molecules in the air. Similarly, an electronic nose detects chemical compounds using rotational spectroscopy.”

The rotational spectrometer generates and transmits electromagnetic waves over a wide range of frequencies and analyzes how the strength of waves are attenuated to determine what chemicals are present as well as their concentrations in a sample. The system can detect low levels of chemicals present in human breath.

“Think about where breath comes from,” said Professor Philip Raskin, M.D., of University of Texas, Southwestern. “Parts come from gases in your stomach, so this involves the digestive system. Molecules in breath also come from the blood when it comes into contact with the air in the lungs. The breath test is really a blood test without taking blood samples. Breath contains information about practically every part of your body.”

“This is the really opportune moment for the development of these breath sensors, rooted in enabling confluence of semiconductor innovation and system designs rooted in molecular spectroscopy,” said Professor Ivan Medvedev of Wright State University, another member of team. “The device can detect gas molecules with far more specificity and sensitivity than currently used breathalyzers, which can confuse acetone for ethanol in the breath. The distinction is important, for example, for patients with Type 1 diabetes who have high concentrations of acetone in their breath.”

“If you think about the industry around sensors that emulate our senses, it’s huge,” O said. “Imaging applications, hearing devices, touch sensors — what we are talking about here is developing a device that imitates another one of our sensing modalities and making it affordable and widely available. The possible use of the electronic nose is almost limitless. Think about how we use smell in our daily lives.”

The researchers envision the CMOS-based device will first be used in industrial settings and then in doctors’ offices and hospitals. As the technology matures, they could become household devices. The need for blood work and gastrointestinal tests could be reduced, and diseases could be detected earlier — lowering the costs of health care.

The researchers are working toward construction of a prototype programmable electronic nose that can be made available for beta testing sometime in early 2018.

The Texas Analog Research Center and this work are supported in large part by SRC and Texas Instruments. Additional support was provided by Samsung Global Research Outreach.

“SRC and its members, including Texas Instruments, Intel, IBM, Freescale, Mentor Graphics, ARM and GLOBALFOUNDRIES, have been following this work for several years,” said Dr. David Yeh, SRC senior director. “We are excited by the possibilities of the new technology and are working to rapidly explore its uses and applications. It is a significant milestone, but there is still much more research needed for this to reach its potential.”

TxACE, created in 2008 under the umbrella of the SRC, is the largest analog circuit design research center based in an academic institution. The center focuses on analog and mixed signal integrated circuits engineering that improve public safety and security, enhance medical care and help the U.S. become more energy independent.

The research team includes UT Dallas doctoral students Navneet Sharma, Zhong Qian and Jing Zhang; Dr. Mark Lee, professor and head of physics; Dr. David Lary, associate professor of physics; Dr. Hyunjoo Nam, assistant professor of bioengineering, Dr. Rashaunda Henderson, associate professor of electrical engineering; and Dr. Wooyeol Choi, assistant research professor. Other team members include Prof. Philip Raskin, M.D. of UT Southwestern, Professor Frank C. De Lucia, C. F. Neese, and J. P. McMillan of Ohio State University, and Professor Ivan R. Medvedev and R. Schueler of Wright State University.


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