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University of Louisville

Superfund Research Program

Development of Novel Ultrasensitive Devices for the Measurement of VOCs

Project Leader: Michael H. Nantz
Co-Investigator: Xiao-An Fu
Grant Number: P42ES023716
Funding Period: 2017-2022

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Project Summary (2017-2022)

Hazardous volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in environmental air have both acute and chronic effects on human health. Gas chromatography coupled with a mass spectrometer (GCMS) is the most common technology used for analysis of airborne VOCs. However, GC-MS is not effective for on-site measurement of trace VOCs at Superfund sites. Trace concentrations of many VOCs normally range from a few parts per trillion (ppt) to a few parts per billion (ppb), and these trace levels strain the detection limits of GC-MS. A pre-concentration process thus is required before air samples can be analyzed by GC-MS. Current VOC pre-concentration techniques face considerable challenges because of low physical adsorption efficiencies and problems associated with subsequent thermal desorption of VOCs.

The overall goal of this project within the University of Louisville Superfund Research Program (UL SRP) Center is to develop novel technologies for quantitative analysis of VOCs to improve both lab and on-site measurements of toxic, airborne VOCs. The researchers are developing microfabricated gold nanoparticle gas sensor arrays for on-site detection of these VOCs in air. Functionalized thiols are being synthesized for surface modification of gold nanoparticles to detect target VOCs at a concentration range from sub-ppb to a few ppm. The thiols have functional groups and structural motifs to specifically promote interaction with and recognition of target VOCs, thus significantly increasing sensing selectivity and sensitivity. The initial focus of the project is on the detection and quantification of vinyl chloride, acrolein, benzene and 1,3-butadiene.

This research project will lead to transformational technologies for quantitative analysis of trace VOCs. The research is directly related to the overall goals of the Center for investigating the effects of exposure to VOCs on inducing/exacerbating cardiometabolic disease. The project also has significant broader impacts on monitoring environmental air and on promoting homeland security.

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