Sandia-developed remote sensor expected to analyze gases up to two miles away

ALBUQUERQUE-- A new remote sensor the size of a dime being developed by the Department of Energy's Sandia National Laboratories should allow users to rapidly detect dangerous gases from up to two miles away.

Called Polychromator, the device will use a combination of optics and microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) to determine gas types. It is joint effort of Honeywell, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and Sandia. MIT is designing the MEMS structures that are being fabricated by Honeywell.

"Imagine a soldier on a battlefield looking through a pair of binoculars with the Polychromator chip built into it and detecting from afar the nature of gas being emitted in a smoke cloud," says Sandia researcher Mike Butler, one of Polychromator's inventors. "There's no need to obtain a sample of the gas or even get close to it. Instead, the detection is made from a safe one or two miles away."

He adds, "It promises that in a matter of seconds you can tell the nature of a gas and whether it's toxic without having an actual sample. It has all kinds of possibilities."

Butler, together with Mike Sinclair, also a Sandia researcher; former Sandian Tony Ricco; and MIT professor Steve Senturia, have obtained two patents on the device, the most recent one in May. The researchers expect to have a functioning prototype by 2001, the end of a four-and-a-half-year funding period for the project by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

The Polychromator is a variation of a conventional gas analysis technique, correlation spectroscopy. Infrared radiation is passed through a sample gas that imparts a spectral pattern to the radiation. This pattern is then correlated with the spectrum of a reference gas to provide the identification. Each gas has its own distinct spectral pattern, which can be used to identify the gas.

Butler says the limitation of the standard method is that it requires a reference cell of the gas and the testing equipmen

Contact: Chris Burroughs
DOE/Sandia National Laboratories

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