KSU professors design toxic gas sensor for firefighters

Two Kent State professors are on their way to advancing safety for first-responders, military personnel, and chemical manufacturing workers. 

Dr. Torsten Hegmann, associate director of the Advanced Materials and Liquid Crystal Institute, and Dr. Elda Hegmann, assistant professor of the institute and the Department of Biological Sciences, have received a three-year, $330,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to continue their work studying liquid crystal-nanoparticle sensors that detect toxic gases and vapors without the use of electricity. 

The integrative sensor systems, which Drs. Torsten and Elda Hegmann have developed with Merck Performance Materials, can display an unmistakable warning in the form of text or an image in the presence of toxic gases and vapors, and provide parts-per-million level sensitivity. The current prototypes are about 1-inch squares, appear black until a toxic gas in the air reacts with the surface, revealing a skull and crossbones. Each sensor is specific to a particular toxic gas, such as phosgene. 

Dr. Torsten Hegmann said the project may help them to produce various sensors uniquely designed for highly toxic gases that could protect the lives and health of firefighters and other first responders, military personnel in conflict zones and workers in chemical manufacturing, among others. Sensors for volatile gases and vapors exhaled by humans also could be used to monitor disease states and disease progression.

The project also is supported by a $100,000 grant from the TeCK Fund, a hybrid technology commercialization accelerator program jointly administered by Kent State and Cleveland State University, with funding provided by the Ohio Third Frontier Commission and the two universities.

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