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Cell phones connect you to the Internet, take and transmit your pictures, help you navigate, take your messages and play movies, music and games – and make phone calls. Soon, they may also serve as nodes in a vast network of chemical weapon sensors.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security and NASA are developing cell phones that contain tiny sensors able to detect the presence of harmful chemicals, such as those used in chemical weapon attacks and those released in industrial accidents. When the chemicals are detected, the phones would alert the user and automatically report to government authorities.

The idea, called Cell-All, is a leap ahead from current chemical sensor deployments, which typically involve handful of sensors installed more or less permanently in a relatively few key locations in major cities and around critical installations.

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