Cheap and easy to manufacture Carbon nanotube sensors detects meat spoilage and another detects fruit ripeness

MIT chemists have devised an inexpensive, portable sensor that can detect gases emitted by rotting meat, allowing consumers to determine whether the meat in their grocery store or refrigerator is safe to eat.

The sensor, which consists of chemically modified carbon nanotubes, could be deployed in “smart packaging” that would offer much more accurate safety information than the expiration date on the package, says Timothy Swager, the John D. MacArthur Professor of Chemistry at MIT.

It could also cut down on food waste, he adds. “People are constantly throwing things out that probably aren’t bad,” says Swager, who is the senior author of a paper describing the new sensor this week in the journal Angewandte Chemie.

The sensor is similar to other carbon nanotube devices that Swager’s lab has developed in recent years, including one that detects the ripeness of fruit. All of these devices work on the same principle: Carbon nanotubes can be chemically modified so that their ability to carry an electric current changes in the presence of a particular gas.

The researchers tested the sensor on four types of meat: pork, chicken, cod, and salmon. They found that when refrigerated, all four types stayed fresh over four days. Left unrefrigerated, the samples all decayed, but at varying rates

The new device also requires very little power and could be incorporated into a wireless platform Swager’s lab recently developed that allows a regular smartphone to read output from carbon nanotube sensors such as this one.

The researchers have filed for a patent on the technology and hope to license it for commercial development.

NBF – The Smartphone update would be amusing the first few times. Ping. You have rancid meat.

This MIT device, based on modified carbon nanotubes, can detect amines produced by decaying meat. Photo: Sophie Liu

Angewandte Chemie – Single-Walled Carbon Nanotube/Metalloporphyrin Composites for the Chemiresistive Detection of Amines and Meat Spoilage


Chemiresistive detectors for amine vapors were made from single-walled carbon nanotubes by noncovalent modification with cobalt meso-arylporphyrin complexes. We show that through changes in the oxidation state of the metal, the electron-withdrawing character of the porphyrinato ligand, and the counteranion, the magnitude of the chemiresistive response to ammonia could be improved. The devices exhibited sub-ppm sensitivity and high selectivity toward amines as well as good stability to air, moisture, and time. The application of these chemiresistors in the detection of various biogenic amines (i.e. putrescine, cadaverine) and in the monitoring of spoilage in raw meat and fish samples (chicken, pork, salmon, cod) over several days was also demonstrated.

SOURCES – Angewandte Chemie, MIT News