A low cost, easy-to-assemble, open-source modular mobile sampler design for thermal desorption analysis of breath and environmental VOCs

Bradley S. Chew, Raquel Pimentel Contreras, Mitchell M. McCartney, Eva Borras, Nicholas J. Kenyon, Cristina E Davis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Exhaled breath vapor contains hundreds of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are the byproducts of health and disease metabolism, and they have clinical and diagnostic potential. Simultaneous collection of breath VOCs and background environmental VOCs is important to ensure analyses eliminate exogenous compounds from clinical studies. We present a mobile sampling system to extract gaseous VOCs onto commercially available sorbent-packed thermal desorption tubes. The sampler can be connected to a number of commonly available disposable and reusable sampling bags, in the case of this study, a Tedlar bag containing a breath sample. Alternatively, the inlet can be left open to directly sample room or environmental air when obtaining a background VOC sample. The system contains a screen for the operator to input a desired sample volume. A needle valve allows the operator to control the sample flow rate, which operates with an accuracy of -1.52 ± 0.63% of the desired rate, and consistently generated that rate with 0.12 ± 0.06% error across repeated measures. A flow pump, flow sensor and microcontroller allow volumetric sampling, as opposed to timed sampling, with 0.06 ± 0.06% accuracy in the volume extracted. Four samplers were compared by sampling a standard chemical mixture, which resulted in 6.4 ± 4.7% error across all four replicate modular samplers to extract a given VOC. The samplers were deployed in a clinical setting to collect breath and background/environmental samples, including patients with active SARS-CoV-2 infections, and the device could easily move between rooms and can undergo required disinfection protocols to prevent transmission of pathogens on the case exterior. All components required for assembly are detailed and are made publicly available for non-commercial use, including the microcontroller software. We demonstrate the device collects volatile compounds, including use of chemical standards, and background and breath samples in real use conditions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number036005
JournalJournal of breath research
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2022


  • breath analysis
  • exhaled breath vapor (EBV)
  • sampler
  • thermal desorption
  • volatile organic compounds

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine


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