Environmental gas sensing needs stringent sensor requirements in terms of sensitivity, selectivity and ruggedness. One of the major issues to be addressed is combining in a single device the conflicting requirements of molecular-level selectivity and low-ppb sensitivity. The exploitation of synthetic molecular receptors as sensing materials is particularly attractive to address the selectivity issue, to single out the desired analytes in the presence of overwhelming amounts of interferents. This minireview summarizes the strategies in environmental gas and vapor sensing using molecular receptors as selective hosts for specific analytes, with the main focus on cavitands. In particular, we highlight the use of these macrocycles as selective preconcentrator units to be integrated into portable devices for environmental monitoring. Depending on the class of analytes to be detected, the molecular recognition properties of cavitands can be manipulated through the proper choice of the bridging groups at the upper rim, and their transducer integration can be implemented through the manifold functionalization options at the lower rim.
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