Frequently when mechatronics experts talk about their field, they refer to the intersection of electronic and mechanical disciplines. Sometimes fluid dynamics and hydraulics will flow into the conversation. Less frequently, they’ll discuss how chemical engineering is one of mechatronics’ contributing disciplines.
But now a Clemson University researcher has built a device that buttresses the argument that chemical engineering plays a role as well. Physics professor Apparao Rao announced this week that he is working on nano-scale electromechanical sensors that have the potential to discern the presence of and provide alerts for toxic chemicals and gases. Built at the nanometer scale, Rao said, means that we might eventually see small devices that provide real-time chemical alerts in battle, industry, health care, or in the home. “The ability to build extremely small devices to do this work has been something we’ve only seen so far in science-fiction movies,” Rao said in a statement issued by Clemson. According to Rao, his research team has improved the capability of oscillating nano-scale cantilevers that vibrate “much like a guitar string and measure amplitude and frequency under different conditions,” the statement continued. It replaces current optical methods that require bulky and expensive laser beams.
“Our method is fully electrical and uses a small AC voltage to vibrate the cantilever and simple electronics to detect any changes in the vibration caused by gaseous chemical or biological agents,” Rao said, noting that resulting handheld devices could beep or flash when they detect changes to gas or chemical levels. The sensors are so sensitive, Rao added, that they can differentiate between hydrogen and deuterium gas, which are similar isotopes of the same element.
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