Dartmouth Engineer - The Magazine of Thayer School of EngineeringDartmouth Engineer - The Magazine of Thayer School of Engineering

MEM Student Helps Develop "Smoking Detector"

By Anna Fiorentino
October 2014 • Thayer By Degrees: MEM

Jack O’Toole T’14 snubbed his favorite hotel chain after his "non-smoking room" reeked of cigarettes one too many times. Hotels lose millions of dollars from unsatisfied customers like O’Toole when smokers light up against policy. For his final project internship this summer, MEM student Drew Matter joined O’Toole and Dartmouth chemistry professor Joseph Belbruno at FreshAir Sensor Corporation to develop a device to help solve this problem.

The 18-month-old startup, which also employs two recent Thayer BE graduates, has now patented the "AirGuard" which detects smoking in non-smoking areas by monitoring airborne concentrations of target chemicals in both cigarette and marijuana smoke.

FreshAir Corp AirGuard Team
l to r: Drew Matter, MEM Candidate, VP of Manufacturing; Kwame Ohene-Adu ’14 Th’14, Lead EE Hardware Engineer; Joe Belbruno, Professor of Chemistry, CTO; Anani Sawadogo '14 Th'14, Lead EE Software Engineer; Jack O'Toole T'14, Co-founder, CEO

"Hotels lose a great deal of revenue from paying high cleaning costs and endure significant brand damage when smoking occurs in non-smoking rooms," said Matter, during his internship presentation last month. "By effectively deterring smoking in rooms, hotels can avoid costs, generate fees and fulfill their brand promise."

Matter brings a background in mechanical engineering, design and manufacturing to his role of overseeing product development—and eventually scaled production—of AirGuard.

"FreshAir is working to have a wide range of sensor offerings and be known as the most effective solution for monitoring airborne volatile organic compounds," said Matter, who plans to stay on long-term with the company run out of the Dartmouth Regional Technology Center. "The MEM program has been a great asset in this role and I use lessons from my coursework daily."

Since last June, FreshAir Sensor has also employed Kwame Ohene-Adu ’14 Th’14 to oversee hardware development and Anani Sawadogo ’14 Th’14 to oversee software development, after the company sponsored their design methodology project. Their work provided the baseline components of the monitoring device. "Their expertise is a tremendous asset to our company," said Matter.

The research behind FreshAir Sensor actually began in 2011, when Professor Belbruno partnered with the Geisel School of Medicine to investigate nicotine sensing for a grant funded by the American Academy of Pediatrics. His aim was to assess the long-term health effects on children of exposure to measurable levels of cigarette smoke. O’Toole then developed a business plan at Tuck in 2013 and raised initial funding to launch the company.

AirGuard sensor

As for the product itself, AirGuard has a thin-film molecularly-imprinted polymer sensor that is laid over an inter-digitated electrode to accurately detect specific molecules. "When the polymer comes in contact with a target molecule, the resistance across the polymer changes as the target molecule adheres to it. This change can be correlated to a molecular concentration level and relayed to the customer," explained Matter. "Molecules can then be released with fresh airflow, allowing the sensor to reset for subsequent detection."

The plug-in device replaces a standard electrical socket plate and provides a pass-through outlet for customer use. It provides wireless monitoring and exposure data over wi-fi for larger customers or via Bluetooth through a mobile app created by Sawadogo. Bluetooth-only devices will be priced individually while wi-fi devices will be less expensive and include a monthly data-monitoring contract.

So far, FreshAir Sensor has patents pending for nicotine and marijuana smoke sensors as well as other industrial chemicals. While their initial market will be hotels, rental cars and a wide range of property managers, over time the company hopes to develop sensors for a broad range of dangerous volatile organic compounds.

"In research and industrial markets, workers need to monitor their exposure to a range of hazardous chemicals that they work with daily. Our individual devices will make this possible," said Matter. "FreshAir’s mission—to improve lives through novel sensor technology—drives our engineering and product development work."

Tags: alumni, design, engineering in medicine, entrepreneurship, innovation, M.E.M., patent, projects, students

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