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To celebrate one year of RADICAL, we’re delighted to share this new video which describes why radicals are important for air quality monitoring, and how our new electronic sensors will change the game.

Click here to watch on YouTube

RADICAL is an EU-funded research project to develop a brand-new way of detecting atmospheric radicals in real-time. But why do we want to detect radicals in the air?

Radicals are atoms or molecules that have an unpaired electron, meaning that they are often highly reactive with other species. Radicals such as hydroxyl are produced naturally when sunlight mixes with ozone, but they only last for a very short time before reacting with something else.

In spite of such a short lifetime, radicals dominate the chemistry of the first 10 kilometres of the atmosphere, which contains the air we breathe.

Radicals help to regulate harmful pollutants like nitrogen dioxide and methane by transforming them into oxidised versions, which are more easily removed from the air. But the side effect is that these secondary pollutants can also be damaging, and the removal of pollutants is sometimes through processes like acid rain.

Detecting radicals in real-time can help us better understand the short-lived reactions that lead to poor air quality indoors and out. Currently, this can only be done with very expensive equipment in just a handful of labs across the world.

Radical will change that.

We are building an electronic nose to electrically detect radicals. This has never been done before, but if it works, our new RADICAL sensors will be low-cost, small and mobile, to help us better monitor the role of radicals in atmospheric chemistry. 

This will take the form of an array of silicon nanowire transistors, with a layer of organic molecule chains that will selectively react with atmospheric radicals. All of this will be mounted on a chip for easy packaging and deployment in real-life environments.

The sensors could also be adapted to detect other gases with a wide range of applications across health, environment, and manufacturing industries.

RADICAL is an international collaboration across Germany, Bulgaria, Greece, the UK and Ireland, all funded by the European Union Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement number 899282.

RADICAL sensor diagram, showing a functionalised nanowire transistor, tuned to capture atmospheric radicals. Credit: RADICAL project

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About the author: Dr Tamela Maciel (UCC Academy) is the project manager and communications manager for RADICAL.

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