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New technology improves detection of volatile organic compounds

13 April 2015

A Virginia Tech researcher has developed a novel gas chromatography–on-chip module that is efficient, fast detecting, repeatable and durable.

Masoud Agah shows a micro-electrode array used for real-time electrical recording of cellular activity (photo: Virginia Tech)

For several years, Masoud Agah, an associate professor at Virginia Tech has used a US National Science Foundation award to develop a credit-card-sized gas chromatography platform that can analyse volatile compounds within seconds.

“The advantages that such miniaturised instruments can provide include the portability for analysis in remote locations with high throughput and low cost,” says Agah.

According to Agah, the research community has more actively pursued the "hybrid integrated approach” for the development of micro gas chromatography systems. This allows the major components of the system, to be miniaturised individually on separately fabricated chips, and then manually assembled using commercially available off-chip fluidic interconnects.

But Agah says this hybrid integration method leads to an increase in the fabrication cost since it involves the separate processing of individual components.

“The manual assembly of individual components is a really cumbersome job and increases the overall weight and footprint of the micro gas chromatography system," Agah adds. He believes that the hybrid integrated approach is inconsistent with the purpose of micro gas chromatography;  further improvement in terms of size, cost, and performance can be achieved by the single chip or "monolithic integration" of micro gas chromatography components, he says.

Agah and his graduate students have developed a novel gas chromatography–on-chip module that provides highly efficient separations and detection, reduced analysis times using temperature and flow programming, as well as fast detection response times suitable for high-speed gas chromatography.

The system’s reliability is also impressive.  Results were found to be highly repeatable with less than 10 percent variations, and no deterioration of the detector excitation electrodes was observed after 12 hours of continuous operation.


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