NSF Supports Inter-institutional Project to Develop Chemical Sensor Technology
Toxic air pollutants such as chlorine and ozone are hazards for civilian workers and public service employees like firefighters, police and military personnel. Some airborne chemicals can be difficult to detect at low levels with high specificity, though, and relevant technologies like wearable sensors have been slow to catch up.
Now a federally-funded collaborative project between Kent State University, Cornell University, and the University of Wisconsin — Madison aims to provide next-generation protection against toxic chemical exposure.
The National Science Foundation recently awarded $549,500 to Dr. Robert Twieg, Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry in Kent State’s College of Arts and Sciences, for his four-year project, titled "Designing Materials to Revolutionize and Engineer our Future (DMREF): Collaborative Research: Accelerated Design and Deployment of Metal Alloy Surfaces for Chemoresponsive Liquid Crystals." The program is funded through the DMREF initiative within the NSF’s Division of Materials Research.
Twieg, a member of Kent State’s Advanced Materials and Liquid Crystal Institute, will work with Cornell’s Dr. Nicholas Abbott and Wisconsin’s Dr. Emanouil Mavrikakis to develop sensor devices from specialized classes of liquid crystal materials, which can sense and respond to analytes that may indicate the presence of a wide array of toxic chemicals.
The project extends earlier successful work on devices based on liquid crystal interactions with metal cation surfaces to now examine interactions between optimized liquid crystals and metal and metal alloy surfaces.
This study unites fields that do not usually collaborate effectively on materials science problems. Twieg said the project is unique because the synthetic, computational, and device-engineering components will work in a well-coordinated fashion to optimize the new sensor technology. Twieg will design and synthesize chemically responsive liquid crystals, guided by insights from his collaborators’ electronic structure calculations and device function evaluations.
The study also includes a workforce training component that will familiarize those who work in potentially chemically-hazardous environments with next-generation sensory technology that could save their lives.