A new type of detector which we call the Catalytic Activity Aerosol Monitor (CAAM) was investigated towards its capability to detect traces of commonly used industrial catalysts in ambient air in quasi real time. Its metric is defined as the catalytic activity concentration (CAC) expressed per volume of sampled workplace air. We thus propose a new metric which expresses the presence of nanoparticles in terms of their functionality - in this case a functionality of potential relevance for damaging effects - rather than their number, surface, or mass concentration in workplace air. The CAAM samples a few micrograms of known or anticipated airborne catalyst material onto a filter first and then initiates a chemical reaction which is specific to that catalyst. The concentration of specific gases is recorded using an IR sensor, thereby giving the desired catalytic activity. Due to a miniaturization effort, the laboratory prototype is compact and portable. Sensitivity and linearity of the CAAM response were investigated with catalytically active palladium and nickel nano-aerosols of known mass concentration and precisely adjustable primary particle size in the range of 3–30nm. With the miniature IR sensor, the smallest detectable particle mass was found to be in the range of a few micrograms, giving estimated sampling times on the order of minutes for workplace aerosol concentrations typically reported in the literature. Tests were also performed in the presence of inert background aerosols of SiO2, TiO2, and Al2O3. It was found that the active material is detectable via its catalytic activity even when the particles are attached to a non-active background aerosol.