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Canary: Toxic Nanoparticle Detector

A quick & portable on-site detection device that identifies & quantifies toxic metal nanoparticles from contaminated surfaces, protecting workers in the chemical manufacturing industry.

  • The Canary is a safety system comprising a reusable handheld device and a mobile application.

  • Early research prototype of the detection system.

  • Results card shows a positive metal detection experiment while testing various methods in the lab.

  • Safety measures for workers in the nanomaterials market should grow with the demand for product.

  • Exposure to nanomaterials can occur through ingestion, inhalation, & transdermal (through the skin).

What it does

Toxic metals at the nanoscale can enter the body causing illnesses such as cancer & reproductive issues. This puts workers at risk and increases cost for employers. Our device enables fast & reliable monitoring of toxic metals, protecting workers’ health.

Your inspiration

Viry’s passions for analyzing things & making chemistry safe merged into a project when she began working with nanomaterials. The invisible particles are amazing & useful for technology, yet their dangers are poorly understood. There are many factors that affect how nanomaterials interact with our bodies & our environments. One consequence of their use is severe health risks due to exposure. She realized that there should be a better & safer way to prevent users from getting sick. As the use of nanomaterials in products rises exponentially, our team is committed to integrating preventative health into the growing nanotechnology industry.

How it works

Toxic metal identification in the workplace normally requires specialized facilities, long processing times, & harsh chemicals. Our device simplifies this process with a handheld, portable device that is easy to use, fast, & safe. The device quantifies & identifies contaminants from workplace surfaces, & a mobile app visualizes exposure levels, suggesting actions to reduce health risks. Nanoparticle detection requires a two-step process. First, the sample collected from a square meter of a contaminated surface is broken down with chemical substances in the conditioning chamber. Second, the sample is moved to the detection chamber where electronic sensors enable the exclusive detection & quantification of the metal of interest. The wifi-enabled sensors display the results on the device screen, & send detailed information to the mobile app. The app informs the user of the type of metal, the quantity, the toxicity level, & the steps necessary to mitigate dangers.

Design process

We wanted to make a device that could detect toxic nanomaterials as reliably & quickly as possible. Given that Viry is a chemist & target user of such a device, we looked to develop a reusable pen-sized unit that required minimal user training. To understand how these metals could be identified, we started by conducting lab experiments that tested various technologies for detection. Initial tests using a chemical reagent in the solution made it possible to keep the size of the device small, however the detection results were less reliable. Because accuracy was so important, we then tested a method using sensors. Results showed high detection accuracy but because the method required power, the unit became larger than expected. Because detection accuracy is a priority, we worked with this method to create a device that was fast & easy to use, focusing future developments on minimizing the size & streamlining the user experience. The current concept for the prototype features a two-step chemical transformation with an easy loading dock & a glove-compatible touch screen that initializes the detection process. The results are then delivered both on the screen & to the mobile application, showing detailed guidance on preventing dangerous exposure to the user.

How it is different

Currently, the only available identification methods for nanomaterials are in-lab testing at specialized labs. It involves sending samples abroad & can take months to be analyzed, during which the health of workers is at risk. Nanomaterials are an emerging technology & a product like ours is the first of its kind. Our unique product has 3 key attributes: enables on-site reliable analysis of nanoscale contaminants; dramatically reduces the time needed for analysis; removes harsh chemicals that can put users at further risk. With our device, employers can monitor workplace surface tracking & prevent the spread of contamination. This is a factor that is currently not accounted for in safety regulations & removes the risk of repeated exposure. The device simplifies elusive info for workers so they can protect themselves & allows safety officers in the workplace to modify practices accordingly, ensuring immediate prevention & compliance with regulations.

Future plans

We will optimize the chemistry & prototype the outer body to perform at critical levels of contamination. To optimize the metal detection, we will test different levels of contamination & minimize the use of chemicals to shrink the size of the device. Once we integrate all the steps necessary for the chemical reaction to occur, we will focus on the user experience. Health & safety products are utilitarian & not user friendly. We are taking a human-centered approach by incorporating ease-of-use, maintenance, sustainability, & ergonomics. Our designers are also target users & will conduct immediate user testing as we develop newer prototypes.


SFU Coast Capital Savings Venture Connection: Venture Prize 2020, Top Female Entrepreneur, Viridiana Perez, CEO, NANOSentinel

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