Northeastern University has received a $1.5 million subcontract award to develop a nanotechnology-based electric field sensor, a project that closely aligns with the University’s continued focus on solving global challenges through innovative, use-inspired research.

Srinivas Sridhar, director of Northeastern’s Electronic Materials Research Institute (EMRI), will lead the research and development of the nanosensors-compact, energy-efficient devices that can detect minute electric fields over large frequency ranges.

The three-year project is funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and will be done under a subcontract from SRICO Inc., an Ohio-based high-tech company.

DARPA, the research and development office for the Department of Defense, was seeking innovative research proposals for electric field detector technologies that will enable the fabrication of dense detector arrays to achieve high spatial resolution of the electric field as well as high sensitivity. Northeastern and SRICO proposed an innovative nanotechnology solution that has the potential to lead to revolutionary advances in the fields of health and security, said Sridhar-which, along with sustainability, represent Northeastern’s primary areas of research focus.

The nanosensors work by detecting, precisely and accurately, very small changes in a light beam that are caused by weak electric fields, said Sridhar. “Working in the nanoscale allows us to better control the design and function of materials,” he added.

According to Sridhar, development of sensors that can detect magnetic fields has far outpaced development of those that can detect electric fields. Through this project, the EMRI team will apply the unique materials and detector concepts developed by SRICO to produce electric field sensor designs that are 1,000 times more effective than the current technology, he said.