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Jia Hao Liang & Carlos Sanchez

Project Summary
We engineered a breath-flow adapter to sample human breath, with the goal of detecting volatile organic compounds (VOCs). While initial iterations of the system failed, the final system is functional. The system employs a single-use disposable 1000 µL pipette tip for sampling that can be changed after each test. The pipette tip is connected to a T-valve that is connected to a nitrogen gas cylinder that delivers a constant stream of nitrogen gas during tests, which reduces contamination and ensures consistent gas flow. The T-value is also connected to a U-tube filled with silica gel through which the breath sample and nitrogen gas flow to remove water vapor from the breath sample. The breath-flow adapter system works in conjunction with a differential mobility analyzer and the mass spectrometer analysis system (DMA-MS).
Because VOCs are not charged molecules, we added an ionizer to the system. We initially tried an electrospray ionizer, but tests showed that it was not effective in ionizing VOCs in breath. Therefore, we switched to a Po-210 radiation-based ionizer. Because a Po-210 radiation-based ionizer is traditionally used detect aerosol particulates, we developed our own protocols to guide the set-up of the ionizer.
Finally, DMA-MS spectra of breath samples showed a marked difference to spectra from tests done with pure nitrogen only (control). While compounds that showed up in the spectra of the breath tests may be impurities encountered in the laboratory, their presence show that the system is possible of detecting VOCs in human breath.
 Jia Hao Liang

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   Carlos Sanchez

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Honors & Awards
Jia Hao Liang (2016) & Carlos Sanchez (2016) worked in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Minnesota under the guidance of Dr. Christopher Hogan. At the regional science fair, Carlos and William won the United States Army Best Project Award and the Naval Science Award from the Office of Naval Research. They also won the Office of Naval Research U.S. Navy and Marine Corps Award at the Minnesota State Science and Engineering Fair and qualified to present at the North Central JSHS Competition. William and Carlos will both be attending the University of Southern California.