This innovation is a lightweight, small sensor for inert gases that consumes a relatively small amount of power and provides measurements that are as accurate as conventional approaches. The sensing approach is based on generating an electrical discharge and measuring the specific gas breakdown voltage associated with each gas present in a sample.
An array of carbon nanotubes (CNTs) in a substrate is connected to a variable-pulse voltage source. The CNT tips are spaced appropriately from the second electrode maintained at a constant voltage. A sequence of voltage pulses is applied and a pulse discharge breakdown threshold voltage is estimated for one or more gas components, from an analysis of the current-voltage characteristics. Each estimated pulse discharge breakdown threshold voltage is compared with known threshold voltages for candidate gas components to estimate whether at least one candidate gas component is present in the gas. The procedure can be repeated at higher pulse voltages to estimate a pulse discharge breakdown threshold voltage for a second component present in the gas.
The CNTs in the gas sensor have a sharp (low radius of curvature) tip; they are preferably multiwall carbon nanotubes (MWCNTs) or carbon nanofibers (CNFs), to generate high-strength electrical fields adjacent to the tips for breakdown of the gas components with lower voltage application and generation of high current. The sensor system can provide a high-sensitivity, low-power-consumption tool that is very specific for identification of one or more gas components. The sensor can be multiplexed to measure current from multiple CNT arrays for simultaneous detection of several gas components.
This work was done by Jing Li and Meyya Meyyappan of Ames Research Center.
This invention has been patented by NASA (U.S. Patent No. 7,426,848). Inquiries concerning rights for the commercial use of this invention should be addressed to the Ames Technology Partnerships Division at (650) 604-5238. Refer to ARC-15460-1.