Ethylene Food Waste Sensor

A group of MIT Chemists led by Timothy Swager devised an Ethylene-based food waste sensor, which effectively detects concentrations of Ethylene gas, released by ripening fruit and vegetables as well as blooming flowers. Made of carbon nanotubes, the sensor would be ideal in monitoring fruits and vegetables as they are shipped and stored, helping identify whether or not conditions need to be optimized. An earlier version of the sensor was devised in 2012 but failed to identify the compound in smaller concentrations. Aiming to create a commercially-viable product, Swager revised the structure of the carbon nanotubes in 2020, which would now rest on Wacker oxidation rather than copper. Ethylene is detected by identifying changes in conductivity and was successfully identified on two different sets of flowers in bloom. Ethylene is also chemically manufactured in plastic production and could be used in factory settings. Despite initial success, questions still remain on how the sensor would work in real-life settings, which deviate from controlled experimental trials.

Trafton, A. (2020, March 18). New sensor could help prevent food waste. Retrieved from

Fong, D., Luo, S. X., Andre, R. S., & Swager, T. M. (2020). Trace Ethylene Sensing via Wacker Oxidation. ACS Central Science, 6(4), 507-512.


Monitoring, Pollution, Regulation