December R&D Round Up

E-mail Melanie Martella

Before we get to the last R&D round up of the year, I'd like to take this opportunity to urge you to support your local food banks. Even with the economy improving, there are an awful lot of people still going hungry on a regular basis and every little bit helps. Right, on to neat technologies! This month, we have a vibration sensor that's powered by earthquakes and smart bandages that can monitor wounds for infection.

By the Power of Earthquakes
New Zealand, as part of the Pacific's Ring of Fire, is no stranger to seismic mayhem. Christchurch is still rebuilding in the wake of the magnitude 6.3 earthquake in 2011. One of the major challenges post-quake is determining which buildings are still structurally sound and which aren't. While newer buildings are built to withstand earthquake effects, you still need to check that they're still safe, which is where Daniel Tomicek's wireless vibration sensor comes in. Tomicek, as his final year research project at New Zealand's University of Victoria, is developing a wireless vibration sensor that uses the kinetic energy provided by an earthquake to power its wireless transceiver and transmit acceleration data to an external computer for later analysis. The stronger the quake, the more energy it produces, and the more data packets the device sends. For more details read the article, "Student's invention harvests energy from earthquakes".

Smart Bandages
A variety of smart bandages—capable of doing more than just protecting a wound—have been developed over the years. Some change color to alert medical professionals to the presence of infection and some medicate wounds. But what about a smart bandage that can also monitor whether the wound is healing or not? That's the challenge before researchers at Northeastern University, who are trying to create an electrochemical sensor that can fit into a band-aid, and actively monitor the health of a wound. As explained in the article, "A tiny electrode fuels smart bandage technology", some of the chemicals produced by bacteria as they're going about their little bacterial lives happen to be electrochemically active. Which means that you can, if you have the right set-up, detect their presence and concentration by detecting those charged compounds. It turns out that one of the tricky bits to shrinking the sensor down to a microscale version is the size of the electrodes (reference and working) that allow the electrochemical sensor to sense things. What assistant professor of chemical engineering Edgar Goluch and graduate student Thaddeus Webster have done is figure out how to create a stable (and functional) microscale reference electrode. (Do read the article I linked to, if only to see the picture of the truly tiny devices they've created.)

Since this is the last Sensors Insights from me for 2012 (we have a guest essay next week), I shall take this opportunity to wish you all a very merry Christmas (or other midwinter holiday of your choice) and I'll see you again in 2013.


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