Part-per-Trillion Trace Selective Gas Detection Using Frequency Locked Whispering-Gallery Mode Microtoroids

Cheng Li, Trevor Lohrey, Phuong Diem Nguyen, Zhouyang Min, Yisha Tang, Chang Ge, Zachary P. Sercel, Euan McLeod, Brian M. Stoltz, Judith Su

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Rapid detection of toxic and hazardous gases at trace concentrations plays a vital role in industrial, battlefield, and laboratory scenarios. Of interest are both sensitive as well as highly selective sensors. Whispering-gallery mode (WGM) microresonator-based biochemical sensors are among the most sensitive sensors in existence due to their long photon confinement times. One main concern with these devices, however, is their selectivity toward specific classes of target analytes. Here, we employ frequency locked WGM microtoroid optical resonators covalently modified with various polymer coatings to selectively detect the chemical warfare agent surrogate diisopropyl methylphosphonate (DIMP) as well as the toxic industrial chemicals formaldehyde and ammonia at parts-per-trillion concentrations (304, 434, and 117 ppt, respectively). This is 1-2 orders of magnitude better than previously reported, depending on the target, except for pristine graphene and pristine carbon nanotube sensors, which demonstrate similar detection levels but in vacuum and without selectivity. Selective polymer coatings include polyethylene glycol for DIMP sensing, accessed by the modification of commercially available materials, and 3-(triethoxysilyl) propyl-terminated polyvinyl acetate (PVAc) for ammonia sensing. Notably, we developed for the first time an efficient one-pot procedure to access 3-(triethoxysilyl) propyl-terminated PVAc that utilizes cobalt-mediated living radical polymerization and a nitroxyl polymer-terminating agent. Alkaline hydrolysis of PVAc coatings to form polyvinyl alcohol coatings directly bound to the microtoroid proved to be reliable and reproducible, leading to WGM sensors capable of the rapid and selective detection of formaldehyde vapors. The selectivity of these three polymer coatings as sensing media was predicted, in part, based on their functional group content and known reactivity patterns with the target analytes. Furthermore, we demonstrate that microtoroids coated with a mixture of polymers can serve as an all-in-one sensor that can detect multiple agents. We anticipate that our results will facilitate rapid early detection of chemical agents, as well as their surrogates and precursors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)42430-42440
Number of pages11
JournalACS Applied Materials and Interfaces
Issue number37
StatePublished - Sep 21 2022


  • DIMP
  • Whispering-gallery mode
  • ammonia
  • formaldehyde
  • gas sensor
  • microresonator
  • optical sniffer
  • polyvinyl acetate

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Materials Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Part-per-Trillion Trace Selective Gas Detection Using Frequency Locked Whispering-Gallery Mode Microtoroids'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this