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Wearable electronics will be a $34 billion industry by 2020, according to analyst firm CCS Insight. Wearable sensors are capable of tracking processes in the body, such as heart rates. But they can also have applications in detecting threats that are external to the body. Wearable chemical sensors currently in development include those made in the form of tattoos, mouth guards, wristbands and headbands, but all of these types of sensors face challenges. There is a demand for sensors that are compact, affordable, noninvasive and can be incorporated into everyday life. But more advanced sensors can be costly and difficult to produce.

A portable, affordable, wearable sensor that would detect external chemical threats has been developed recently. According to sciencedaily.com, Joseph Wang and colleagues at the University of California, San Diego designed their sensor as a ring that can be worn on a finger. The ring has two parts, an electrochemical sensor cap for detecting chemical and biological threats, and a circuit board under the cap for processing and sending data wirelessly to a smartphone or laptop. It can perform voltammetric and chronoamperometric measurements, which allow the ring to detect a wide array of chemical threats.

The team exposed the prototype to explosives and organophosphate nerve agents, both in vapor and liquid phases. The ring was highly selective and sensitive. The researchers say the device could be expanded to other hazardous environmental or security agents.

The research team received funding from the US Defense Threat Reduction Agency Joint Science and Technology Office for Chemical and Biological Defense. The research was published on ACS Sensors journal.