Something In The Air

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Something In The Air

What is the cost of measuring something so small it is invisible to the naked eye? Sometimes nothing, sometimes a lot. In a plant that manufactures complex electronic devices, the slightest change in the vacuum pressure of the environment can be the difference between a working and a defective product, the latter of which can cost thousands of dollars, depending on the device. In a nuclear power facility, being able to measure the level of radiation in the air can be the difference between life and death.

This is not a new problem. There are a number of devices that reveal changes in vacuum pressure or the radioactivity of an environment by measuring the ionization of air particles. However, while these ion-sensing devices are a monument to human ingenuity and incredible feats of scientific experimentation, they are not always efficient nor effective in terms of size or producibility; there is room for improvement.

Swastik Kar_Yung Joon JungGuardians of Gaurdion

That is what Professors Yung Joon Jung and Swastik Kar have done: brilliantly improved upon an already brilliant design. Jung and Kar, the founders of Guardion, have produced a device that can measure the ionization of particles in the air with a level of reliability and effectivity previously unseen in the field of ion detection.

A Better Design

Measuring ions is a relatively old technology, having existed decades prior to Jung and Kar’s work, though previous methods of detection faced certain limitations. The sensitivity of existing ion-sensing devices are fairly low, requiring intricate electronic amplifiers to boost detected signals. As a result, the equipment necessary to accomplish sufficient detection of ionized molecules are not only expensive to produce, but can be fairly clunky and difficult to maneuver in certain environments.

The sensor produced by Jung and Kar, on the other hand, exhibits a high level of sensitivity without the need for amplification, electronic or otherwise. The resulting device is not only lightweight, but also cost-effective. Jung and Kar took advantage of intrinsic properties in more easily producible materials that naturally respond to ionized particles in the air, thereby eliminating the need for additional components to derive a measurable response in the environment.

Filling a Niche …

This new lightweight sensor has applications in security, medical fields, and production of sensitive materials, potentially replacing existing sensors across each industry. In particular, the sensor excels in detecting radiation. Radiation can change the properties of air molecules, causing their atoms to become ionized when the radiation level is sufficiently high. These high levels of radiation can prove harmful to organic life, and thus require a method of measurement to ensure areas are not so irradiated that they negatively impact the health of organisms in the vicinity.

… In Security

SensorsFor purposes of security, these sensors can be used to detect the transportation of dangerous materials in populated areas, sensing the presence of weapons such as dirty bombs or harmful radioactive materials before they can be deployed. Currently, detection of dangerous radioactive materials is handled by personnel in protective gear with a handheld device the size of a brick maneuvering busy at-risk environments such as seaports, which can be extremely large and difficult to navigate. Jung and Kar’s lightweight sensor, conversely, is small and lightweight enough to be attached to an aerial drone, thereby providing a method surveying large facilities that eliminates the risk posed to an individual and increasing the number of sensors that can be deployed at a given time, leading to greater coverage of at-risk environments. This application can also be extended to monitoring the safe operation of nuclear facilities, aiding in the detection of radiation leaks or surges.

… In Manufacturing

ManufacturingThe sensor also has a profound impact on the manufacturing of sensitive electronic devices, such as microchips and medical equipment. Producing these types of sensitive electronics require strict process monitoring, ensuring the vacuum pressure in manufacturing facilities remains at an acceptable level during the fabrication of materials. Companies typically use sensors that measure ambient pressure via ionized air particles, though current sensors have a limited range of detection, thus requiring the use of several different devices tuned to monitor specific frequencies. Jung and Kar’s tech does not face this limitation, as their device is naturally tuned to a much larger spectrum of ionized particles. Companies that once needed a cohesive unit of devices working in tandem to monitor multiple ranges of vacuum pressure could replace these complex systems with a single sensor, cutting maintenance and equipment costs across production facilities.

In Short

The detection of ionized air particles may seem like a niche field, but being able to monitor aspects of the environment otherwise hidden to our basic senses allows for great precision when approaching difficult tasks, such as the detection of harmful weapons, precision manufacturing or even space exploration. While existing sensors are generally effective, they are clunky and lack high levels of sensitivity across a large spectrum of signals. Jung and Kar’s sensor overcomes these pitfalls with an innovative design that is not only more sensitive to changes in the environment, but is also more lightweight and compact, making it a more viable tech in almost every application.

Written by Joseph Burns

Want to learn about additional Northeastern technologies? Try these:

Northeastern Professor Develops A Smarter Flame Detector

A Better Design for Aerial Drones

Interested in licensing tech? Email Mark Saulich, Associate Director of Commercialization.


Feature image by StevenLeith65. Some rights reserved.
Image 1 by Northeastern University.
Image 2 by New York National Guard. Some rights reserved.
Image 3 by UknownNet Photography. Some rights reserved.

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