A new method of measuring extremely tiny objects could lead to cheaper more accurate sensors for use in gas detection, as well as medical research.
The technology could prove a significant breakthrough when it comes to creating leak detection and measurement sensors in a range of fluid handling applications.
Researchers at the University of Waterloo found that nanoscale devices using electromagnetism would be sensitive enough to determine the mass of viruses a hundred billion times lighter than a strand of human hair.
Describing one of the possible applications of the new method, Hassan Askari, a researcher and PhD candidate at Waterloo, said: “Medical researchers would finally have a more accurate tool for detecting viruses and bacteria, and that could lead to better clinical diagnosis.”
In addition to high accuracy, the research also showed that the new method of measurement – a sensor consisting of a magnetic particle fixed to a tiny resonator plate and a tiny coil – has the potential to generate electricity, greatly reducing interference.
A ‘beautiful’ concept
Electrical voltage would be created when the plate was vibrated to rapidly vary the distance between the magnetic particle and the stationary coil. By measuring the difference in voltage after an object such as a gas or bacteria molecule was added to the plate, the sensor would be able to determine that object’s mass.
It could also be possible to use the voltage to power the sensor itself, enabling wireless transmission of results from clean labs to computers outside of them, reducing the interference that reduces accuracy.
“The concept is very beautiful,” said Askari, a co-author of the new study along with Eshan Asadi, another PhD student at Waterloo. “If we can optimise the design, the hope is we can develop a self-powered mass sensor.”
An article published in the journal Measurement details the scientists’ research.