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Sensor Technology


Infrared (IR) gas detection is a well-developed measurement technology. Infrared gas analyzers have a reputation for being complicated, cumbersome, and expensive. However, recent technical advancements, including the availability of powerful amplifiers and associated electronic components, have opened a new frontier for infrared gas analysis. These advancements have resulted from an increase in demand in the commercial sector, and these demands will likely continue to nourish the advancement of this technology.

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Solid State

When scientists were doing research work related to semiconductor p-n junctions,1 they discovered that these junctions were sensitive to environmental background gases. At that time, such a behavior was considered a problem. This problem, however, was solved by encapsulating the semiconductor chip so that it was no longer exposed to the outside environment. Subsequently, unsuccessful attempts were made to utilize the sensitivity of the semiconductor junction as a gas detection device.

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The oldest electrochemical sensors date back to the 1950s and were used for oxygen monitoring. More recently, as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) began requiring the monitoring of toxic and combustible gases in confined space applications, new and better electrochemical sensors have been developed.

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The photoionization detector (PID) utilizes ultraviolet light to ionize gas molecules, and is commonly employed in the detection of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). This technique originally found use in bench top laboratory instruments, but its complexity limited its use elsewhere. The heart of the photoionization detector is an ultraviolet source, which is essentially a lamp. Early versions of this lamp used electrodes inside the lamp similar to those used in the early days of the vacuum tube and were quite costly to manufacture.

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Catalytic Bead

Catalytic bead sensors are used primarily to detect combustible gases. They have been in use for more than 50 years. Initially, these sensors were used for monitoring gas in coal mines, where they replaced canaries that had been used for a long period of time.

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