By fusing together the concepts of active fiber sensors and high-temperature fiber sensors, a team of researchers at the University of Pittsburgh has created an all-optical high-temperature sensor for gas flow measurements that operates at record-setting temperatures above 800 °C. This technology is expected to find industrial sensing applications in harsh environments ranging from deep geothermal drill cores to the interiors of nuclear reactors to the cold vacuum of space missions, and it may eventually be extended to many others.

An artist's rendering of the fiber optic flow sensor. The glowing red sections along the optical fiber are the sensors – hundreds of them can be packed into a single fiber. (Kevin Chen, University of Pittsburgh)
The team looked to optical-fiber sensors, which are one of the best sensor technologies for use in harsh environments thanks to their extraordinary multiplexing capabilities and immunity to electromagnetic interference. They were able to pack many of these sensors into a single fiber to reduce or eliminate the wiring problems associated with having numerous leads involved.

Based on the same technology, highly sensitive chemical sensors can also be developed for cryogenic environments. Next, the team plans to explore common engineering devices that are often taken for granted and search for ways to enhance them.