This column presents technologies that have applications in commercial areas, possibly creating the products of tomorrow. To learn more about each technology, see the contact information provided for that innovation.
Ultrasensitive Sensor Detects Extremely Small Vibrations
NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) developed a novel point mechanic piezoelectric system capable of sensing extremely small vibrations, forces, or strains. The system's high sensitivity near resonance and low noise floor enable the sensor to detect various low-frequency parameters — such as miniscule changes in the gravity gradient, seismic waves, and acoustics — from minimum detectable signals in the surrounding environment. Traditional piezoelectric systems have larger intrinsic noise and smaller signal-to-noise ratio, requiring more complex instrumentation. NASA's sensor instead uses a simple system to detect minute parameter changes, leading to significantly lower cost and material requirements.
Contact: Sammy A. Nabors, Marshall Space Flight Center
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Killing Bacteria with Sanitizers Made of Paper
A team led by Rutgers University has invented an inexpensive way to kill bacteria and sanitize surfaces with devices made of paper. By applying high voltage to stacked sheets of metallized paper, the team generated plasma — a combination of heat, ultraviolet radiation, and ozone that kills microbes. In the future, paper-based sanitizers may be suitable for clothing that sterilizes itself, devices that sanitize laboratory equipment, and smart bandages to heal wounds. In experiments, the paper-based sanitizers killed more than 99.9 percent of E. coli bacteria cells.
Contact: Todd B. Bates, Rutgers University
Using Graphene to Produce Inexpensive Semiconductor Wafers
MIT developed a technique that uses graphene — single-atom-thin sheets of graphite — as a “copy machine” to transfer intricate crystalline patterns from an underlying semiconductor wafer to a top layer of identical material. The technique may vastly reduce the overall cost of wafer technology, and enable devices made from more exotic, higher-performing semiconductor materials than conventional silicon. Manufacturers would be able to use graphene as an intermediate layer, allowing them to copy and paste the wafer, separate a copied film from the wafer, and reuse the wafer many times over. The graphene-based peel-off technique may also advance the field of flexible electronics.