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Measurement of Ammonia in Human Breath with a Liquid-Film Conductivity Sensor

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posted on 15.10.2006, 00:00 by Kei Toda, Jianzhong Li, Purnendu K. Dasgupta
Measurement of breath NH3 is of interest in clinical applications as it can be used as a measure of kidney/liver functions as well as halitosis. We have developed a liquid-film conductivity sensor to measure NH3 in human breath. A film of dilute H2SO4 is formed on the top of two metal capillary tubes placed in a concentric annular arrangement. The tube exterior has been specially treated to render it hydrophilic. As breath passes over the sensor tip, the film collects NH3 and the solution conductivity (measured by the concentric capillaries functioning as electrodes) decreases accordingly. This initial rate of conductivity decrease was determined to be the best metric (most rapid and least dependent on breath pCO2) for ammonia, relative to time to attain complete neutralization (conductivity minimum) or the final rate of conductivity increase as more ammonia dissolves after neutralization. The absorbing solution composition was optimized so that CO2 does not interfere. Both dynamic measurement using mask sampling and offline balloon sampling were performed. Ammonia readily absorbs on surfaces when significant concentrations of water vapor are present. As such, memory effects are common when analyzing human breath for ammonia. This problem was successfully eliminated. The results from this sensor agreed well with data obtained by a solution-phase fluorometric technique using a porous membrane diffusion scrubber and o-phthalaldehyde derivatization chemistry. For breath CO2 measurement, the applicability of a similar sensor that relies on a NaOH film was also demonstrated.