A research team led by Goutam Koley of Clemson University is working on a sensor system that would connect to a smart phone and help detect threats, ranging from allergens to toxic chemicals and explosives.

Koley, a professor of electrical and computer engineering, said the sensor system could be used for a host of civilian and military applications. A prototype of the device has been created, and a more complete version could be ready within a year, he said.

Goutam Koley shows the sensor system he and his team are developing.

The National Science Foundation has supported Koley’s work with multiple awards totaling more than $800,000. One of the awards was a CAREER Award through the Faculty Early Career Development Program.

Koley described the technology as “extremely sensitive, resonant cantilevers made of gallium nitride” that are excited with an optical pulse.

“The idea is to use the extreme sensitivity of the cantilever to listen to the music of the molecules, which can be used as signatures for their unique identification,” he said. “It’s an emerging technology. It’s much better than Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy in terms of sensitivity, size and cost.”

Koley was among the co-authors of an Aug. 10 article in Nature Communications. The article “Piezotransistive transduction of femtoscale displacement for photoacoustic spectroscopy,” was co-authored by Abdul Talukdar, a former University of South Carolina student now working with Intel, and researchers from the University of Alberta: M. Faheem Khan, Dongkyu Lee, Seonghwan Kim and Thomas Thundat.

Koley and Talukdar were credited in the article with conceiving the original ideas.

Dan Noneaker, chair of the Holcombe Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, congratulated Koley on his success.

“Dr. Koley is an excellent researcher,” Noneaker said. “His NSF awards and his contributions to the research reported in Nature Communications speak volumes. We’re glad to have him here at Clemson.”