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.