Want your iPhone to detect deadly chemicals? There's an app for that (sorta)

Scientists at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, working with the Department of Homeland Security, have created a portable chemical sniffer for cellphones, such as the iPhone. It's about the size of a postage stamp and can plug into 30-pin dock connectors (that big slot on the bottom of many phones), and can quickly detect airborne traces of ammonia, chlorine gas and methane.

From NASA:

The device Li developed is about the size of a postage stamp and is designed to be plugged in to an iPhone to collect, process and transmit sensor data. The new device is able to detect and identify low concentrations of airborne ammonia, chlorine gas and methane. The device senses chemicals in the air using a "sample jet" and a multiple-channel silicon-based sensing chip, which consists of 16 nanosensors, and sends detection data to another phone or a computer via telephone communication network or Wi-Fi.
According to NASA, it's a "new technology that would bring compact, low-cost, low-power, high-speed nanosensor-based chemical sensing capabilities to cell phones," which is another example of more advanced consumer technology being reappropriated to allow more complex functionality all around.

So, the iPhone and gadgets like it can perform the work of microscopes and heart monitors, and now sniff out chemicals, too. A device like this could alert the user — or a researcher looking for such — for large traces of a chemical in the air. Chances are, though, with its bulky design the average user would never have something like this. Still, it makes us wonder how hard it'd be to incorporate this kind of hardware in future phones.

NASA, via Inhabitat, via PopSci