Lightweight device for real-time detection of airborne particles

At a Glance

Researchers at Colorado State University have developed a new system that directly measures airborne particles with enhanced sensitivity to a broad range of particle sizes. The device directly measures airborne sub-micron and nanoscale particles, improving on the current indirect methods in which particles are lost due to the necessity of multiple devices. Additionally, the device is smaller and easier to handle than current technologies. These improvements make this novel device a must-have for worker safety in this developing industry.


Breathing in particles and droplets in air can be hazardous as some of the materials are toxic. Some work or living environments have a greater chance of risk of inhaling dangerous particles. Miners inhaling coal or silica particles have led to pneumoconiosis and silicosis respectively. OSHA has stated that over-exposure to airborne nanoparticles can have detrimental effects, including tissue damage and cancer, and NIOSH and other organizations have recommended exposure safety levels. Raised awareness of the potential hazards of nanomaterials have identified that nanoparticles can have unique adverse health effects compared to larger particles of the same material. Methods to detect and quantify airborne particulate matter that may impact human health, needs to assess particles at a variety of sizes and work in a variety of environments. Previously developed detection tools may not be able to capture sub-micrometer and nanoscale particles, and/or are large, laborious, inefficient, and slow. Often there is not a real-time analysis of the particulate matter that an individual is exposed to. New detectors are needed that can help quickly and reliably quantify exposure of particles across a wide range of sizes.


This novel personal sensor is an interdigitated capacitance sensor that can detect sub-micron and nanoscale particles in a 1 mm by 1.5 mm sensing area. The sensor relies on both diffusion and impaction mechanisms to collect particles on nano and micro scales. A readout board can monitor particle deposition in real-time and is separately designed from the rest of the sensor to allow for reuse. A microheater is added to allow the sensor temperature to remain constantly for a stable reading. The design increases the probability of capturing sub-micron particles, while rejecting larger particles. In testing, there was a clear response to particle deposition and 77% of the collected particles were sub-micron particles with a diameter below 1 micrometer.


  • Device directly measures airborne particles that are submicron and nanometer size, preventing harmful exposure for employees that produce nanomaterials
  • Device is small and light-weight, improving wearability for long time periods
  • Capable of real time measurements of particle exposure – no need to transfer to another device for analysis
  • Built-in heater provides stable environment for sensor


  • Personal protective exposure sensing for industries with risk of airborne particles such as mining, construction, industrial cleaning, farming, restaurants, factories, and firefighting
Last Updated: September 2023

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Aly Hoeher