Matt Coghill, Mark Hernandez Ph.D. and Joe Boatman Ph.D. – The DetectionTek Technology

Air Date: 3-11-2016| Episode: 405

This week on IAQ Radio we explore a cutting edge technology for evaluating microbial conditions of indoor environments. Joining us are two experts on aerosol physics and microbial assessment/identification along with the COO of DetectionTek Technology…

Full Description:

This week on IAQ Radio we explore a cutting edge technology for evaluating microbial conditions of indoor environments. Joining us are two experts on aerosol physics and microbial assessment/identification along with the COO of DetectionTek Technology. We will discuss methods for measuring microbial conditions of indoor environments and the DetectionTek technology.

Dr. Mark Hernandez received all his degrees, and did a post-doctoral tenure in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at the University of California at Berkeley. After several years of civil engineering practice, he joined the University of Colorado faculty in 1996, where he is now a full professor. Dr. Hernandez is a registered professional engineer, and an expert on the quantitation and remediation of bioaerosols; a generation of his research lies in characterizing the biological aspects of air pollution – both indoors and out.

Dr. Joe Boatman is Principle of Indoor and Outdoor Air Quality Consulting. He is an expert in Atmospheric Aerosols, Atmospheric Physics and Meteorology. His PhD is from the Univ. of Wyoming in Atmospheric Science. He has extensive experience in Atmospheric Aerosols, Atmospheric Physics and Meteorology

Matthew Coghill currently serves as the Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of DetectionTek Holdings LLC. Matthew led the development of the InstaScope real-time bioaerosol detection technology from its inception in 2012. His focus is translating the complex science and technology experience of his team into a product that is accessible and compelling to the non-technical consumer.

Z-Man’s Blog:

“Like an instant microscope”

According to Matt Coghill, Dr. Mark Hernandez, PhD and Dr. Joe Boatman, PhD, Detectiontek’s InstaScope is “like an instant microscope which determines the load and composition of the air you are breathing”. The device functions as a real time bio-aerosol detector. Rooted in military technology for detecting bio warfare agents, the technology was expanded by DetetionTek to detect a wider range of aerosols of commercial concern and refined into a tool for gauging air quality, specifically the load and composition of airborne mold, pollen, and bacteria.

Nuggets mined from today’s episode

Matt Coghill: What’s it look like and what does it do? It’s about the size of piece of rolling luggage and it is fitted with an IPad for control and a tethered sampling wand; the InstaScope measures: airborne mold concentrations, fine particles (PM2.5 and PM10), temperature and relative humidity.  The device determines both “how many and what kind” of airborne particles are in the sample.  InstaScope allows the inspector to test every room, deliver an instant report, and zero-in on indoor sources of contamination with real-time information.

Film technology. One way to think about the InstaScope as compared to current cassette sampling is to compare it to a traditional film camera.  Everyone is familiar with using a film camera where you have to purchase the film, take a set of still photos, and then wait for the film to be developed.  There is cost and time associated with film cameras and they can still be used effectively, but the standard today is the digital camera.  The InstaScope is like a digital movie camera in that it provides real-time imaging and there is no film to pay for or get developed.  This new way of taking pictures isn’t just a step forward in the technology, it is changing how IEPs think and act.

Dr. Hernandez- Particle differentiation. When compared to others, biological particles have unique sizes, shapes and biofluorescence.  A simple way of explaining bioflouresence is that when organic particles are hit with invisible light they reflect visible light and that visible light can be measured and used for identification.  The InstaScope uses a library of optical signatures to differentiate between particle types. The device measures the size and bioflourescent “color” of all particles counted and then compares that to a library of known bioaerosol signatures.Each organic particle has a unique bioflourescent signature that allow for discrimination between particles “on the fly”. The InstaScope takes the particle-by-particle data and produces both a number concentration of bioaerosols and a “decision logic” with green, yellow, and red exposure conditions like a traffic light.  The machine examines and compares samples in real time and the variability in the processing is very tight because of the computer algorithm.  Because bioflouresence is rare outside of biological compounds, pigments and paints won’t generally cause false-positives although the instrument can be sensitive to high VOC concentrations.

Dr. Boatman- What does the machine tell us?  Older technology used a pump, a cassette and a microscopist to tell us what is there. He was frustrated by situations where cassette technology and microscopy would provide the wrong answer. The disadvantages of old technology include limited number of samples due to cost and variability among analysts. He sought something newer and more accurate. InstaScope looks at every particle and sorts them: biological versus non-biological. InstaScope further sorts the samples into airborne mold, bacteria and pollen. Rather than taking 1 outdoor sample and 1 indoor sample, samples can now be taken in every room at anytime and at no added cost.

To isolate problem areas, both passive and aggressive samples can be taken. InstaScope helps Inspectors provide more comprehensive and accurate diagnosis and make better recommendations.

Matt Coghill: The device tracks a straight line, it is the environment that is constantly changing. It’s important that the operator understand the environment.  The operator can easily create synthetic environments for better fact finding so long as they understand the parameters of the test they are creating. Sampling is at a rate of 1 liter per minute and scan times can range from 3-20 minutes based on operator input.  Practically this means that every room within an average 2,500 square foot home can be tested in 45-60 minutes. The InstaScope is able to count and characterize 99% of all of the particles it samples because it operates at a particle-by-particle resolution.  Because the test is real-time and movable, samples are taken dynamically throughout the entire space instead of in a static postion like cassette sampling.

Dr. Hernandez:  One of the big advantages of this technology is that it provides both a time and space integrated sample.  This is really useful information in that it tells you both when and where you encounter bioearosol loads that need further investigation.

Dr. Boatman- Practical aspects. When taking spore trap samples, results are dependent on the skills and experience of the sample taker and the microscopist. Old technology is “blind” in a lot of situations because of the sample and analysis limitations.  Consequently we have been trying to do environmental investigations using the prinicples of science but with a very blunt tool.  With InstaScope the analyisis is consistent and the sampling is much more comprehensive.  It’s like the InstaScope had “cataract surgery” and can see really well compared to traditional cassettes.

Looking for statistical outliers:  The green, yellow, and red exposure conditions are driven by bioaerosol loads that are significantly higher or significantly different than the other samples in the set and that includes a national database of more than 80,000 rooms.  The algorithm that InstaScope uses to determine these exposure conditions uses the same decision logic that IEP use when comparing traditional spore trap results.

Dr. Hernandez: What is normal for indoor bioaerosol loads and how does InstaScope determine what constitutes a “red” room?Normal depends on where you’re located. Samples are referenced to location and compared to all samples in the database.  The principle is the same as a pediatrician telling you your child is in the 75% for height and 82% for weight.  It is a rank order distribution that helps you measure your distance from average. Each single site visit is compared to the database and also extends the database. The InstaScope system is getting smarter, more accurate and using better judgement as the database grows. The bid data that is being compiled is continuing to help us understand what is “normal” for indoor environmental conditions.

Dr. Boatman: Why green, yellow and red? The colors interpret the concentration and composition of all the particles but expresses it in language that makes sense to the end-customer.

Matt Coghill: What does Red mean? Red means that the bioaerosol load, specifically airborne mold, is significantly greater in concentration or different in ecological composition from the other samples referenced.  When we train InstaScope inspectors, we tell them that practically if you see a red room it is either wet (IICRC Condition 3) or dirty (IICRC Condition 2) and you should go looking for an indoor source.

Dr. Hernandez: How did you build the InstaScope database?. We obtained samples of more than 50 of the most common fungi, cultured them in the lab at University of Colorado, aerosolized them in an environmental control chamber and then sampled them with the InstaScope along with collocated impactors and impingers.  We compared cassette and microscopy results to InstaScope results and they matched up with very little variation.  Dr. Vesper’s QPCR suite and ERMI along with Dr. Joe Spurgeon’s practical use of rank order distributions were used to help build the database paradigm used by the InstaScope.

Dr. Boatman: How do you correlate other data points such as building dampness with the InstaScope results?It is important to correlate visual observations with the real-time aerosol information provided by the InstaScope.  There is a visual notes section in the InstaScope iPad interface that allows the operator to note when evidence of water intrusion is found. The inspector should take moisture readings and use all of the tools necessary to correlate data points and understand exposure.

Matt Coghill: Status report. InstaScope units are built in Boulder, Colorado. There are just south of 50 units currently being used in the field. Detectiontek is looking for IEP practitioners to step-up and get involved with a next–generation, disruptive technology.


Dr. Boatman: Can you use InstaScope to find “hidden mold” like in a wall cavity? Wall cavity sampling can be done by removing an electrical switch or outlet cover.  The instrument can take the readings but in practice it is not something we generally do because the InstaScope is primarily concerned with occupant exposure so that is the area that we test.

What can be improved?We are happy with the bioaerosol load and composition information.  We want the instrument to continue to get smarter as the database grows. Looks toward a tightening of the decision data (green, yellow, and red) and the weird one-off stuff. The system isn’t as smart as it will be and that’s exciting.

Matt Coghill: Water damage restoration monitoring:A good example of how this technology is changing how practitioners think is in the water damage environment.  Because InstaScope delivers real-time information, it allows characterization of a water loss day over day and gives the technician the information they need to change how they manage the environment during a water loss.  With current spore trap technology is too slow and expensive to use in this environment.

What about using InstaScope for fire related soot damage? The InstaScope is focused on bioaerosol detection.  A different and more costly technology is used for black carbon detection and that is not in the plans for InstaScope at this time.

The future:

Addition of airborne bacteria and pollen. Giving additional meaning and context to building physics and aerobiology. Making the science more understandable to the consumer.

Today’s music: Inspector Gadget cartoon Theme, YouTube

Z-Man signing off


Name the apparatus used for recording and measuring spectra, especially as a method of analysis?

Answer:  Spectrometer