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Engineers develop biowarfare sensing elements for future highly sensitive nerve-gas detectors

re the sensor element was tested in. By contrast, previous polycrystalline metal oxide thin film sensors could not recover automatically after being exposed to toxic or flammable gases, an effect known as sensor poisoning.

Co-author and collaborator Wang is the first to grow the ribbon-like, single crystals of tin oxide used for sensing DMMP. Other sensors of this type consist of crystals with many imperfections, and recover slowly because molecules previously detected can become trapped in these imperfections.

Shi constructed the accompanying sensor components using traditional computer chip design and fabrication techniques. Specifically, he used microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) fabrication methods.

For instance, MEMS was used to fabricate the platinum electrodes, one of which links to a tiny, microfabricated heating element and thermometer to elevate the nano sensor's temperature to a constant 932 degrees Fahrenheit (500 degrees Celsius) with a power consumption of only 3-4 milliwatts. These components allow the sensor to be operated using a battery so that it can be used as a wearable device. To minimize heat loss, Shi's group isolated the silicon nitride membranes attaching the electrodes using trapeze-like strands of microfabricated silicon nitride.

The sensor requires the high temperature to activate the reaction between DMMP molecules and the tin-oxide sensor element. That reaction changes the electrical current across the crystal, which indicates a nerve agent is present.

The paper was based on the dissertation research of the lead author, Choongho Yu. Yu received a doctor's degree in mechanical engineering from The University of Texas at Austin last year, and is a post-doctoral fellow at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Shi's group is continuing to develop methods to integrate nanomaterials with MEMS devices more efficiently in order to microfabricate better, lower-cost sensors. Multiple senso
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Contact: Becky Rische
brische@mail.utexas.edu
512-471-7272
University of Texas at Austin
10-Feb-2005


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