The broader impact of this Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Phase I project will be an affordable, portable breath analysis device to detect marijuana intoxication. First responders, law enforcement, medical professionals, cannabis users, and the general public will benefit from an analytical tool that allows fast and accurate screenings of cannabis impairment. An estimated 37,000 people died in vehicle crashes in 2016; 54% of the victims were tested for drugs and alcohol, and 38% of those tested positive for marijuana. The proposed device will enable objective determination of cannabis impairment, improving road safety.

The proposed project is based on engineering detectable, reproducible interactions between an array of biomimetic polymer coatings trained to detect gas-phase molecular components that are markers of cannabis intoxication. Drawing inspiration from the principles and chemical features of nature’s cannabinoid receptors, polymers will be molecularly engineered for enhanced molecular recognition of cannabinoids. These materials will be rationally designed to strongly bind cannabinoids and create changes measurable with Micro-Electro-Mechanical-Systems (MEMS) sensors, while simultaneously affording a functional handle that can be utilized to monitor gas-phase cannabinoids in real-time. The biomimetic polymers will be solution-deposited onto MEMS sensors and evaluated in a controlled environmental chamber for responsiveness to a panel of cannabinoids. Volatilized gas-phase cannabinoid concentrations will be screened, mapped against MEMS resistance and capacitance measurements, and analyzed to develop proprietary chemometric pattern recognition algorithms that uniquely identify each molecular target. The simultaneous use of chemicapacitive and chemiresistive MEMS sensors coupled with multiple molecular recognition strategies will be exploited to enhance the sensor’s molecular discriminating power, adding signal diversity across the sensor array. This approach will distinguish gas-phase cannabinoids in breath via chemometric “fingerprints” across a diversified biomimetic MEMS sensor array.

This award reflects NSF’s statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation’s intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Detailed Award Information

Award Information:
Title: STTR Phase I: A Roadside Marijuana Breathalyzer to Rapidly Screen for Cannabinoid Sobriety
ID: 2014624
Effective Date: 06/01/2020
Expiration Date: 05/31/2021
Amount: $225,000

Institution Information:
Name: The University of Texas at Austin
City: Austin
State: TX
Country: United States
MSI: Other Institution

Investigator Information:
Role Code: Principal Investigator
Name: John Cowart
Email Address:

Organization Information:
Directorate: 4900
Division: NSF

Program Information:
Code: 4900
Text: STTR Phase I