IAS Gyan

Daily News Analysis


12th February, 2024 Science and Technology


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  • The development of sensors made from "frozen smoke," or aerogels, marks a significant advancement in the detection of toxic gases, particularly formaldehyde, in indoor environments.


  • The sensors are made from highly porous materials known as aerogels, which are more than 99% air by volume.
  • The researchers precisely engineered the shape of the holes in the aerogels to enhance their sensitivity to formaldehyde.
  • The open structure of aerogels allows gases to move in and out easily, enabling effective sensing capabilities.
  • The sensors detect formaldehyde at concentrations as low as eight parts per billion, well below levels deemed safe in workplaces.
  • Tiny semiconductors known as quantum dots are incorporated into the aerogels to further enhance sensing capabilities.

Sensor Features

  • Room Temperature Operation: Unlike traditional gas sensors that require heating, these sensors operate effectively at room temperature, consuming minimal power.
  • High Sensitivity and Selectivity: The sensors offer high sensitivity to formaldehyde and can distinguish its "fingerprint" from other volatile organic compounds (VOCs) using machine learning algorithms.
  • Low Power Consumption: The sensors consume between 10 and 100 times less power than traditional sensors, making them suitable for long-term monitoring applications.


  • Indoor Air Quality Monitoring: The sensors are designed to detect formaldehyde, a common indoor air pollutant emitted by household items such as pressed wood products, wallpapers, and paints.
  • Health and Safety: Continuous monitoring of formaldehyde levels can help mitigate health risks associated with prolonged exposure, including respiratory issues and certain cancers.
  • Real-Time Data: By providing real-time information about indoor air quality, the sensors offer homeowners and businesses a more accurate picture of potential health hazards.

Future Prospects

  • Expansion to Other VOCs: The same sensing principle could be applied to develop sensors for detecting other VOCs, further enhancing environmental monitoring capabilities.
  • Multi-Sensor Platform: A multi-sensor platform incorporating these aerogel-based sensors could provide comprehensive real-time data about various hazardous gases in indoor environments.
  • Low-Cost Solutions: The researchers are working on developing low-cost multi-sensor platforms that integrate aerogel-based sensors with AI algorithms for widespread deployment.

About aerogels


  • Aerogel is primarily composed of silica, the same material found in glass, in a porous, sponge-like structure.
  • Other materials, such as carbon or metal oxides, can also be used to produce aerogels with different properties.


  • Low Density:
    • Aerogel is one of the lightest solid materials known, with densities typically ranging from 0.0011 to 0.5 g/cm³. It is often referred to as "frozen smoke" or "solid smoke" due to its translucent appearance and low density.
  • High Porosity:
    • It possesses a highly porous structure, with up to 99.8% of its volume being air-filled pores. This gives aerogel excellent thermal insulating properties.
  • Exceptional Thermal Insulation:
    • Aerogel has outstanding thermal insulation properties, making it an effective insulating material for a wide range of applications.
  • Low Thermal Conductivity:
    • Its low thermal conductivity (around 0.03 W/mK) makes it highly effective at preventing heat transfer, leading to its use in applications requiring thermal insulation in extreme environments.
  • High Surface Area:
    • Aerogels often have a very high surface area per unit volume due to their porous structure, making them useful for catalysis and adsorption applications.
  • Transparency:
    • Depending on the manufacturing process and composition, aerogels can be translucent or nearly transparent, allowing light to pass through.
  • Brittle:
    • While aerogels are lightweight and porous, they can be brittle and delicate, requiring careful handling to avoid damage.

Manufacturing Process:

  • Sol-Gel Method: Aerogels are typically produced through a sol-gel process, starting with a liquid precursor (usually a silicon-based compound) that undergoes gelation to form a solid network structure.
  • Supercritical Drying: The gel is then dried under supercritical conditions (where the liquid and gas phases of the solvent merge) to remove the liquid, leaving behind the porous aerogel structure.


  • Insulation: Aerogels are used as thermal insulators in a variety of applications, including buildings, aerospace systems, and cryogenic storage containers.
  • Energy Efficiency: They are employed in energy-efficient windows, clothing, and appliances to improve insulation and reduce energy consumption.
  • Oil Spill Cleanup: Aerogels can absorb large quantities of liquids, making them useful for oil spill cleanup and environmental remediation.
  • Catalysis: Due to their high surface area and porosity, aerogels are used as catalyst supports in chemical reactions.
  • Space Exploration: Aerogels have been used by NASA in space missions to capture cosmic dust and as insulating materials for spacecraft.
  • Personal Care Products: They are incorporated into cosmetics and personal care products for their light-scattering properties and texture enhancement.


In conclusion, the development of sensors made from "frozen smoke" represents a promising advancement in gas sensing technology, with wide-ranging applications in indoor air quality monitoring and environmental safety. The combination of aerogel-based sensors and machine learning algorithms opens up new possibilities for enhancing health and safety standards in indoor environments.


Q. Frozen smoke or aerogel is a remarkable material with exceptional properties that make it valuable for numerous applications. Discuss. (15 marks)