November R&D Round Up

E-mail Melanie Martella

Can you believe that it's already November? Where has 2011 gone? This month, for our research and development news we've got a printed wireless ammonia sensor, using a laser to check food freshness, and 3D X-rays for the operating room.

A Printed Wireless Sensor
There are some very, very cool printed sensor projects out there; now researchers from the Georgia Tech Research Institute have added another one with their paper-based ammonia sensor. Led by Krishna Naishadham, the team have developed a prototype capable of sensing trace amounts of ammonia (5 ppm). The sensing portion uses carbon nanotubes coated with a conductive polymer that attracts ammonia. Mixed into a water-based ink, the functionalized nanotubes can be printed onto paper using an inkjet printer. Similarly, the RF components can be printed onto heavy photographic paper using a special ink made of silver nanoparticles in an emulsion. According to the article, "Paper-based Wireless Sensor Could Help Detect Explosive Devices", the researchers are still working on how to power the device, from a thin-film battery or energy harvester, or whether to use is as a purely passive sensor.

Shedding Light on Food Safety
When it comes to keeping food fresh, oxygen is the enemy. That's why many food products—ground meat, fruit juice, and the like—have carbon dioxide or nitrogen injected into their packaging to stave off spoilage. However, it's not always easy or possible to measure just how much carbon dioxide, nitrogen, or oxygen is in the package; depending on the packaging material, oxygen can leak in. Dr. Märta Lewander, from Lund University in Sweden, working with her colleagues in the Atomoic Physics and Packaging Logistics departments, have developed a nondestructive technique that uses a laser to determine the oxygen concentration within food packages. In the article, "Laser makes sure food is fresh", the technology can measure through most packaging materials and promises a faster, nondestructive way to test for excess oxygen, which may mean an improvement in food safety.

Faster 3D X-Rays
Navigating the internal terrain of the human body is tricky at the best of times, and when you're a surgeon trying to install an implant (if that's the correct term) or find and remove fragments of broken bone, knowing exactly where you are (and where the bone is, and where the implant should be) is a necessity rather than a luxury. Currently, 3D X-rays require equipment to be wheeled to the table, disrupting the operation and getting in the way of the surgeons, and then everyone has to wait while the images are converted into 3D representations. Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Systems and Design (IPK), working with the Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin university hospital and Ziehm Imaging GmbH, are developing a 3D X-ray system that provides faster images and doesn't impede access to the patient or the surgeon's work. The system, called ORBIT, consists of a maneuverable X-ray source above the operating table, a digital flat-panel detector in the operating table, and a monitor to display the resulting images. Because the X-ray source is above the patient, either fixed to the ceiling using the articulated bracket or on a movable stand, it doesn't get in anyone's way. In addition, the metal from screws or implants creates fewer artifacts within the 3D images. You can read more in the news article, "Speedy 3D X-rays in the operating room."