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Pomona College Professor Receives Grant for Electronic Nose Research

Pomona College Professor of Chemistry Charles Taylor has received a $90,000 research grant from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), a federal agency that develops and promotes measurement, standards and technology, for his work with preparing selective chemical sensors for electronic noses (ENoses).

ENoses have an array of sensors that behave differently depending on the composition of air being passed over the sensor. They allow for real-time air quality monitoring, as opposed to more conventional methods where air samples are taken to a laboratory to be analyzed.

One such device that Taylor worked on, while on Steele leave at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, will be launched into space Nov. 14 to monitor air quality on the International Space Station in a six-month technology demonstration.

The NIST grant for continued research will allow Taylor to develop better sensor materials that are more robust than the current polymer-based materials. The vanadium oxide prepared in his research lab varies in its selectivity depending on the chemistry used for preparing it. In addition, because it is a metal oxide, it may be heated in air to regenerate its activity.

The final goal is to “make sensor arrays that are specific to different applications,” says Taylor. For example, sensors could be placed in a shipping container full of liquefied propane gas to notify the transporter if the gas began leaking during shipment. The devices that contain the sensor arrays would require very little power and could transmit data wirelessly. “But in order to do that, we need to get sensors that respond differently to a variety of compounds. That’s what we’re working on with the materials industry.”

Taylor is also using the grant to develop a new chemistry class that will employ the materials characterization techniques available on campus. The class will help expose students to the changing roles of chemists in industry, in areas like microelectronics research and development.

Pomona College is one of the nation’s premier liberal arts institutions, offering a comprehensive program in the arts, humanities, social sciences and natural sciences. Its hallmarks include small classes, close relationships between students and faculty, and a range of opportunities for student research.