A universal air-tester is a long way off. But Gordon and Gandhi already have a patent and a prototype for a small air collector. Samples could then be tested for any biological agent, such as pathogens (the flu), toxins (anthrax) and allergens (mold). Those tests, however, still would have to be conducted in a lab.
"The only systems available today are collectors being used in the biodefense space for pathogens like anthrax," Gandhi said. "They're very expensive, very cumbersome, very noisy and difficult to use. Our collector will be a competitor of those but portable, compact, affordable and quiet."
Applications for the device range from health care clinics in the Third World to Chicago schools. But its homeland security application is what landed Gordon and Gandhi a patent in just seven months instead of several years.
Gordon and Gandhi's company, Inspirotec, has received its seed funding from Pay Pal co-founder Peter Thiel's Breakout Labs program.
"Our next-generation device will be an all-in-one detector," Gandhi said. "No such device exists today. We compare it to an early warning system, such as a carbon monoxide alarm or smoke detector."
Last year's class
Lithium-air batteries (Argonne National Laboratory)
Computer coding academies (Neal Sales-Griffin and Mike McGee of Code Academy, now The Starter League)
From-home STD testing (Dan Malven and Sridhar Murthy of Analyte Health)