Using hollow layered ceramic spheres, MIT researchers developed a new technique for building gas detecting sensors that can differentiate the various molecular components in a gas.
The prototype sensor, created by Tuller [MIT professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering –ed.], postdoctoral fellow Kathy Sahner and graduate student Woo Chul Jung, members of MIT’s Electroceramics Group in MSE, consists of thin layers of hollow spheres made of the ceramic material barium carbonate, which can detect a range of gases. Using a specialized inkjet print head, tiny droplets of barium carbonate or other gas-sensitive materials can be rapidly deposited onto a surface, in any pattern the researchers design.
The miniature, low-cost detector could be used in a variety of settings, from an industrial workplace to an air-conditioning system to a car’s exhaust system, according to Tuller. “There are many reasons why it’s important to monitor our chemical environment,” he said…
In previous work designed to detect nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions from diesel exhaust, the researchers created sensors consisting of flat, thin layers of barium carbonate deposited on quartz chips. However, the films were not sensitive enough, and the team decided they needed more porous films with a larger surface area.
To create more texture, they applied the barium carbonate to a layer of microspheres, hollow balls less than a micrometer in diameter made of a plastic polymer. When the microspheres are burned away, a textured, highly porous layer of gas-sensitive film is left behind.
The resulting film, tens of nanometers (billionths of a meter) thick, is much more sensitive than flat films because it allows the gas to readily permeate through the film and interact with a much larger active surface area.
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