Chemiresistors based on metal monolayer-capped nanoparticles (MCNPs) are promising candidates for fast, inexpensive, and portable tracing of (bio)chemical species in the gas phase. However, the sensitivity of such sensors to humidity is problematic, limiting their reliable and reproducible application in real-world environmental conditions. In this work, we employed a compensation method to explore the effect of humidity on a single MCNP chemiresistor as well as on an array of MCNP sensors used to analyze either synthetic or real-world samples. We show that an array of MCNP chemiresistors is able to precisely detect and estimate subtle concentrations of (mixtures of) volatile organic compounds (VOCs) under variable backgrounds of 2-83% relative humidity (RH) only after humidity compensation. Humidity effects were also tested in two clinical trials aimed at detecting prostate cancer and breast cancer through exhaled breath analysis. Analysis of the results showed improved cancer detection capabilities as a result of RH compensation, though less substantial than the impact of RH compensation on synthetic samples. This outcome is attributed to one - or a combination - of the following effects: (i) the RH variance was smaller in the breath samples than that in the synthetic samples; (ii) the VOC composition in the breath samples is less controlled than the synthetic samples; and (iii) the responses to small polar VOCs and water are not necessarily additive in breath samples. Ultimately, the results presented here could assist the development of a cost-effective, low-power method for widespread detection of VOCs in real-world applications, such as breath analysis, as well as for environmental, security, and food applications.
© 2011 American Chemical Society