This paper presents a developed dielectric-barrier-discharge–based “sniffer” that offers unique characteristics not available from other techniques. It is a portable, highly specific, and sensitive detector that operates at atmospheric pressure. It provides both molecular and elemental information on organic and inorganic gases and particulate aerosols. Measurements were made to electrically characterize the plasma and calculate the energy coupled into the plasma. We created a signature database for diverse chemicals based on the atomic and diatomic emission spectrum that serves to classify the compound and ideally recognize it by composition with the optical emission intensity corresponding to concentration. For some operational regimes and species, emission from OH (A<sup>2</sup>Σ<sup>+</sup>–X<sup>2</sup>Π), CH (A<sup>2</sup>Δ–X<sup>2</sup>Π), and often C<sub>2</sub> (<i>d</i><sup>3</sup>Π<sub>g</sub>–<i>a</i><sup>3</sup>Π<sub>u</sub>; Swan band system) diatomic radicals is produced. Limits of detection extend to parts per billion (ppb) levels for some species such as decane, 2-decanol, and nitrobenzene. Results are presented for differentiation of classes of organic compounds such as alkanes, aromatics, oxygenates, chlorinated, and nitrogen-containing organic compounds.
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