June R&D Round Up

E-mail Melanie Martella

June is upon us! This month's intriguing research and development stories include a fully functional lab in a can for ocean and water quality research, stretchy pressure sensors, and a solar-powered nanosensor for pollution research.

Self-Contained Water Sampling
Oceans are very, very big, which makes studying them something of a logistical nightmare, especially if you're trying to take and analyze samples of seawater and don't want to have to nip back to a onshore lab to test them. Chris Scholin of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) and his teammates, with support from the National Science Foundation, have created the Environmental Sample Processor (ESP), a big metal container that takes in seawater and then adds it to a variety of small reaction chambers to test for particulates, microorganisms, undesirable chemicals, as well as to perform some basic DNA analysis. The batteries in the Lab in a Can allow it to run for between 30 and 45 days. The general aim is to use the ESP to provide an early warning of water quality problems and it's not limited to ocean research. According to the Science Nation article, "Lab in a Can", it's also being tested for use in aquaculture applications.

Stretchy Sensors
I've mentioned several types of stretchy sensors before, and now the clever people at Fraunhofer Institute for Silicate Research ISC have developed another one. Their sensor places flexible electrodes on either side of a very stretchy elastomeric layer. The resulting device experiences a change in capacitance as it is deformed, allowing it to measure both pressure and degree of stretch. Incredibly, the dielectric elastomeric sensors can be stretched up to 100%! By altering the material properties of the elastomer, the researchers can make the film stiffer or more pliant, allowing them to tailor the sensor to the application. Considering that pressure is one of the most measured quantities, this sensor has lots and lots of potential applications.

Rooftop Pollution Monitoring
A masters student at Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in Brisbane, Australia is testing a solar-powered sensor station to detect airborne NO2, N2O, and NH3. The sensors are based on carbon nanotubes and metal oxide nanowires and are powered by dye-sensitized solar cells; the prototype is currently installed on the roof of one of QUT's buildings where it forms part of an international study into solar-powered nanosensors. According to the student, Alexander Malaver, quoted in the news article, "Solar-powered nano sensor targets gases more polluting than carbon", "The aim of this research is to be able to let people know in real time the concentration of these gases around roads and farms so that they can change their behaviour if necessary." Ultimately, the goal is to create a network of these cheap sensors to assess how these gases affect global warming and the health of those exposed to them.

Next week is Sensors Expo! I hope to see you there!


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