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What if you could wear something that would alert you when pollution, such as smog, is about to take its toll on your heart or lungs? That is what's "in the air" at the National Science Foundation- (NSF) supported Nanosystems Engineering Research Center (NERC) for Advanced Systems of Integrated Sensors and Technologies (ASSIST) at North Carolina State Univ.

ASSIST Director Veena Misra and her multidisciplinary team are using nanotechnology to develop small, wearable sensors that monitor a person's immediate environment, as well as the wearer's vital signs.

These sensors would monitor environmental concerns, such as ozone, carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide levels at the same time that they are monitoring vital signs, such as heart rate and hydration. The sensor's data would be transmitted wirelessly to the wearer's cell phone, and even to a doctor. The goal is to help people avoid exposure to the environmental conditions that exacerbate asthma and other health concerns.

The team is also developing devices that don't use batteries and instead harvest power from the human body, relying on heat and motion to generate the energy they require.

This multidisciplinary research involves various types of engineering, including textiles and chemical, as well as computer science and medicine.

ASSIST develops and employs nano-enabled energy harvesting, energy storage, nanodevices and sensors to create innovative, battery-free, body-powered and wearable health-monitoring systems. This center of excellence received funding from NSF in 2012 for five years of research, and this funding will be renewable for another five years in 2017.

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