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New ORNL sensor exploits traditional weakness of nano devices
Date:2/12/2010

OAK RIDGE, Tenn., Feb. 12, 2010 -- By taking advantage of a phenomenon that until now has been a virtual showstopper for electronics designers, a team led by Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Panos Datskos is developing a chemical and biological sensor with unprecedented sensitivity.

Ultimately, researchers believe this new "sniffer" will achieve a detection level that approaches the theoretical limit, surpassing other state-of-the-art chemical sensors. The implications could be significant for anyone whose job is to detect explosives, biological agents and narcotics.

"While the research community has been avoiding the nonlinearity associated with the nanoscale mechanical oscillators, we are embracing it," said co-developer Nickolay Lavrik, a member of the Department of Energy lab's Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences Division. "In the end, we hope to have a device capable of detecting incredibly small amounts of explosives compared to today's chemical sensors."

The device consists of a digital camera, a laser, imaging optics, a signal generator, digital signal processing and other components that collectively, much like a dog's nose, can detect tiny amounts of substances in the air.

The underlying concept is based on micro-scale resonators that are similar to microcantilevers used in atomic force microscopy, which has recently been explored as mass and force sensing devices. Although the basic principle is simple measuring changes in the resonance frequency due to mass changes a number of obstacles have impeded widespread applications of such systems.

"These challenges are due to requirements of measuring and analyzing tiny oscillation amplitudes that are about the size of a hydrogen atom," Lavrik said. Such traditional approaches require sophisticated low-noise electronic components such as lock-in amplifiers and phase-locked loops, which add cost and complexity.

Instead, this new type of sniffer works
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Contact: Ron Walli
wallira@ornl.gov
865-576-0226
DOE/Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Source:Eurekalert

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