SENSAIRA is an anti-pollution fungal (yeast) biosensor that detects and responds to low oxygen levels in urban environments, notifying users through visual and audio outputs.
WHY IS AIR POLLUTION A PROBLEM?
Natural air quality is 250-350 ppm (parts per million) – an amount that our bodies evolved to exist in, before the age of industrialization. 400 ppm is the global air quality concentration benchmark for high Carbon dioxide (CO2).
This threshold has just been broken worldwide.
Levels of 1,000+ ppm are considered lethal, but exposure to 400+ ppm still has long term carcinogenic effects. In the past, research has shown a spike in lung cancer and autoimmune diseases in regions with heavy pollution rates.
Trends in biotechnology show that yeast biosensors (as an in vitrol tool) are routinely used for the detection and monitoring of environmental pollutants. Yeast is a microorganism that has the potential to provide cost-effective, real-time analytical results – and many studies have demonstrated the ability of yeast to accurately detect molecules, including metabolites and carcinogens. Further improvements, such as the immobilization of cells and cell durability, are needed to make yeast biosensors more widespread and accessible – but currently, yeast has proven to hold great promise for a plethora of scientific applications as a sensing element.
Prevention: Sensaira warns people about the predictability of toxic gas attacks or leaks, by providing a visible color gradient through the color-changing fungi.
Remediation: Then, if the CO2 count reaches a certain threshold, an alarm on our device will sound, and the fungi will start respiring through the semipermeable membrane to reduce the concentration of these gases.
Urban Planning: Finally, network connectivity allows for better urban planning. The polluted area will then be sent to a network of devices, to notify people to avoid the area. The data repository could then be used by the government and other corporations to build structures that tend to generate a lot of waste (e.g. factories and wastelands) more strategically.
This biosensor has the parts of a wearable “watch,” genetically-modified yeast, a microcontroller and power source for Internet connectivity, integrated Bluetooth features (to connect to Apple Health or another application), and a method of detaching the dial to replace the yeast.
The interaction is displayed through a gradient change of color in the bacteria. We will also integrate an alarm output into the device, if the concentration of toxins in the air is too much. This alarm will also be linked to an app that tracks data, and uses a greater network to send warning notifications to other people, if certain areas are extremely polluted.
OUR DESIGN DECISIONS:
Wristband wearable: intuitive, standalone product
Dial: allows for easy twist removal and layered stacks
Hydrogels: can absorb large amounts of water and biological fluids. Has porous features and soft consistency, but at the same time, do not allow for water (fungi’s living condition) to evaporate
Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE): creates a semipermeable membrane that allows for fungi to sense O2
Glass shell (with holes): abrasion-resistant outer layer that is still breathable
Electrical Circuit: Contains electric-signal generating yeast, conductive ink, an Arduino, an “if statement” to determine if placement is in or out of threshold, and an output to alarm (mini Speaker Module)
Code for Sensaira’s Alarm
Yeast color change demonstration
Form Factors and Usage
We envision Sensaira to have 3 sizes – for Government usage, for intermediary usage (in Ubers and installed in transport methods), and for personal usage.
We generated several applications for Sensaira’s user base, and created user personas for them.
THE FUTURE OF SENSAIRA: HOW BIOSENSORS DEMOCRATIZE AIR-QUALITY DATA
Traditionally, air quality measurement has always relied on giant monitors approved by the US EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), but these monitors have only been able to map out extremely narrow sections of urban areas. Smaller, more affordable pollution sensors would allow people to be able to localize and equalize precise air-quality data. By installing monitors at street corners, around public buildings and in homes, people could have access to high-resolution air sensing at a granular level. They could then see what a space’s contributors are to pollution – as spaces are susceptible to biomass plants, vehicles, temperature changes, or even, say, backyard barbecues. Ultimately, Sensaira builds a stronger web of monitors that allows for real-time maps of a city’s microclimates. As this network develops, on a macro scale, governments could then critically manage where they build new structures (like schools), creating a safer and more environmentally-conscious world for all.
TEAM MEMBERS: Haojiong Liu, Saif Khawaja