Underwater sensor system could protect reservoirs, drinking water

A sensor system that can autonomously, continuously and in real-time monitor streams, lakes, ocean bays and other bodies of liquid may help solve problems for environmentalists, manufacturers and those in charge of homeland security, according to Penn State engineers.

"The importance of developing a network sensor technology for operation in liquid environments has recently been highlighted in reports detailing the chemical slurry of antibiotics, estrogen-type hormones, insecticides, nicotine and other chemicals in the rivers of industrialized countries," says Dr. Craig A. Grimes, associate professor of electrical engineering and materials science and engineering. "However, analysis is still done by physically collecting samples and analyzing them back in the laboratory."

Monitoring of rivers downstream from sewage treatment plants, large city water supplies, or the composition of a local pond must all be done by hand. This expensive, time-consuming and sometimes dangerous practice is always time delayed and may miss short duration episodes of pollution or contaminants. Continuous, in-place monitoring would be the easiest, most timely and least expensive way to track changes in bodies of water.

However, underwater monitoring is hampered because water interferes with the radio transfer of information, the most common method used to transfer information in the air. The researchers, who include Grimes; Xiping Yang, William R. Dreschel, Kefeng Zeng and Casey S. Mungle, graduate students, electrical engineering, Penn State; and Keat G. Ong at SenTech Corporation, State College, Pa., looked at a hierarchical, acoustic method to transfer the information from the sensors to the person monitoring the water.

The researchers are looking at systems that can monitor temperature, salinity, acidity and specific chemicals. Some of the same researchers, in collaboration with Dr. Michael Pishko, associate professor chemical engineering and material scienc

Contact: A'ndrea Elyse Messer
Penn State

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