We all know that characteristic odor of fried electronics... when you "let the magic smoke" out of the chip.

Unfortunately it doesn't seem to set of ordinary smoke detectors, at least not at concentrations anywhere near the level where humans can smell it. The gas isn't visible, so it's doubtful that an IR or particulate detector would work either.

Is there a different kind of smoke detector that does detect this? Or a way to make one?

Looking for something to use as the "last line of defense" in a remotely-deployed (unattended) system.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Is [tag] the tag you really wanted on this question? \$\endgroup\$ – ThreePhaseEel Oct 7 '16 at 1:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ The problem with "tweaking" a smoke detector to be sensitive to trace amounts of smoke are nuisance sources like burning candles, cooking fumes or bathroom steam. \$\endgroup\$ – st2000 Oct 7 '16 at 5:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ Ummm, if you DID have a 'smoke detector' that was sensitive to burning electronics.... it would alert you... but too late. The interesting circuit you're trying to protect is already gone, vaporized, turned into 'smoke detector burnt offerings'. You'd be better off with some sort of 'is-it-still-working' circuit for your original device. And if you're experiencing a large 'burnt offering' type failure rate of your devices, something is built poorly, as that's generally not a design feature most engineers include, unless that was part of the original feature set. (Flame-on setting?) \$\endgroup\$ – lornix Oct 7 '16 at 8:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ThreePhaseEel of course not, but the stupid site policies won't let me create tags that don't yet exist. \$\endgroup\$ – user4718 Oct 7 '16 at 8:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ @user4718 Could you monitor the devices with an IR camera - the magic smoke is usually helped on its way out by a burst of IR. Some sort of motion-detection software running on a small processor could even record a picture at the moment of failure. \$\endgroup\$ – Andrew Morton Oct 7 '16 at 8:52

Aspirating smoke detectors or VESDA (Very Early Smoke Detection Apparatus) are used to detect very low concentration of smoke particles, before potential inflammation occurs (smell / particles from overheated power cable, smell by fried IC in equipment etc). For example, almost every medium - large data center have it.

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I'm reasonably certain a gas chromatograph would do what you want, but...

Valid point from @lornix - by the time you smell it, it's probably too late


Gas chromatographs are not cheap, in a very big way last I looked, even though they have come down quite a bit in price. But if cost is no object....

Reminds me of the beginning of the book "Fail-Safe" (which was about a system that didn't.)


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