Need to diagnose an illness in a hurry Scientists are developing an 'electronic nose' app for smart phones
Researchers are working to manufacture a smart phone attachment that works when used in conjunction with what they call sensory vapour technology
16:31 GMT, 11 May 2012
As the world slowly becomes dominated by smart phones, software developers are having to come up with increasingly ingenious apps.
And, in an industry that knows no bounds, people could soon be using their phones to diagnose an illness.
Sounds far-fetched Not according to scientists who are trialling what they call sensory vapour technology.
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Caltech graduate student Heather McCaig demonstrates how the sensory vapour technology works. Researchers hope to make the system portable enough to be used on a smart phone
The aim is to manufacture a smart phone attachment that works when used in conjunction with an 'electronic nose app'.
A team of researchers at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), led by chemistry professor Nate Lewis, is working on a chemical vapour sensor that can detect odours like the human nose.
It is hoped that their research will result in an affordable, easy-to-carry detection system, ideally an advanced smart phone app.
Caltech graduate student Heather McCaig likens the research to replacing a miner's canary with hi-tech environmental monitoring.
She said: 'A doctor could carry around their smart phone and have patients breathe into a little attachment and be able to tell they have a communicable disease like tuberculosis.
The technology will work by analysing a person's breath and detecting the chemicals of an illness (file picture)
'You wouldn't need to send samples off to a lab, you would immediately be able to start treatment.
'This would have a huge impact on people's lives.'
The detection system works by pushing a stream of air through a liquid, such as butanol, which results in bubbles that come up as a saturated vapour.
This is then diluted and fed to a sensor chamber where the vapour is analysed and turned into raw data.
From this data the scientists are able to work out the chemicals contained in the initial stream of 'air'.