Sensor Research & Development Round-Up for July

E-mail Melanie Martella

This month, we've got nickel oxide nanoparticles for detecting toxic chemicals and gases, an embedded sensor that measures a plant's real-time water stress, and a sensor-enhanced tire.

A New Sensor for Toxic Chemicals
Associate professor of materials science and engineering Patricia Morris and her team at Ohio State University have been investigating nickel oxide nanoparticles for sensors capable of detecting chemicals of interest, such as toxic industrial compounds and biological warfare agents (two classes of chemicals that both first responders and soldiers would like to be able to identify quickly and accurately).

The electrical conductance of nickel oxide, it turns out, changes when toxic materials settle onto its surface. Morris and doctoral student Elvin Beach have applied a thin layer of nickel oxide nanoparticles to a MEMS microsensor array chip supplied by collaborators at NIST. The greater surface area of the nanoparticles may enable greater sensitivity and faster response. The intent is to identify target chemicals by the electrical signature they leave on the array, similar to some electronic noses. Along the way, the team discovered how to make very small, very pure nickel oxide nanoparticles. For more on the research, read the Ohio State Research News article "New Way to Make Sensors That Detect Toxic Chemicals".

Sensor Measures Plant Water Stress
Thanks to University of Cornell Alan Lasko, a researcher at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, NY, and Cornell University associate professor of chemical engineering Abraham Stroock, owners of vineyards may one day be able to monitor the degree of water stress experienced by their vines in real time, courtesy of an embedded microsensor. Lasko, Stroock, and graduate student Vinay Pagay are working with Cornell's Nanofabrication Facility to develop prototypes on silicon wafers and the team is partnering with MEMS company Infotonics to take the technology commercial. According to the Cornell Chronicle Online article "'Lab On A Chip' To Give Growers Real-Time Glimpse Into Water Stress In Plants", the team envision the sensors wirelessly transmitting the data back to a central server and hope that the use of micromanufacturing will put these sensors into the price ranges of smaller growers.

Smart Tires
Tire manufacturer Pirelli, according to the article "Vibration harvesting for tyre technology," which appeared in the Energy Harvesting Journal recently, will soon be releasing an intelligent tire. The tire, which incorporates a microcontroller and multiple sensors, can supply information on the state of both the tire and the car it's attached to. The first iteration, named the Cyber Tyre Lean, will use a microcontroller, pressure and temperature sensors, and vibration energy harvester glued to the tire's inner liner to acquire data on the tire's pressure, temperature, and average vehicle load. RFID can also store the tire's identifying information. The firm is working towards the Cyber Tyre, described as an 'intelligent tire', in which the sensors and supporting electronics are integrated into the tire itself, turning it from a carefully engineered but dumb piece of rubber and steel into a sensing device capable of communicating with the vehicle's electronics.

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