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Underwater Sensors

Scientific breakthroughs in nanotechnology have taken electronics to the next level by making the circuit smaller and smarter, but a professor at the University of California is proving that he can design circuits which can be pushed, pulled and even used under water.

Thin film electrochemical sensors are directly printed on a flexible wetsuit by the team led by Joseph Wang paving the way for water resistive electronic sensors which has a potential application under water.

With funding from the U.S. Navy and with the help of some members of his team who like to surf, Wang and team designed sensors that are printed on neoprene (a rubber fabric which surfers usually wear). The project was an immense success and the design is U.S. patent pending. It even has offers from fortune companies.

“Anyone trying to take chemical readings under the water will typically have to carry a portable analyzer if they want to detect pollutants. Instead we printed a three-electrode sensor directly on the arm of the wetsuit, and inside the neoprene we embedded 3-volt battery and electronics” said Wang.

These printable sensors are based on applying voltage to cause a redox reaction in a threat or contamination, the current is measured as there is a change in count of electrons. The sensor has a visual indication which alerts by changing the LED color from green to red, for example, if the sensor interacts with industrial pollutant like phenol the color immediately changes to red and therefore the surfer can understand that there is a threat.

These sensors are made smaller by dense packing technology, they are packed inside a device popularly known as potentiostat which measures 19x19mm including the battery. The prototype models of this sensor are designed to detect TNT, phenols and toxic metals under water, but Wang says that the device is quite able to be customized.

The team tested the sensor for explosives because of the security hazard highlighted by the 2000 attack on the USS Cole in Yemen. Naval teams often check for underwater hazards and explosives periodically and so these kinds of energy efficient, compact and smart sensors could save a lot of lives.



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