‘Super’ sensors to detect imminent danger

University of Southern Queensland (USQ) mechanical engineer, Toan Dinh. Image: USQ

University of Southern Queensland mechanical engineer Toan Dinh has developed sensors that are five to 100 times smaller than the width of a single human hair to help prevent injuries and fatalities on mine sites.

The ‘super’ sensors are a result of six years of development and can detect early mechanical issues in harsh environments such as those that are common in the mining, oil and gas and aerospace industries.

Recognised by NASA for their ability to withstand corrosive environments, the sensors trump traditional silicon technology.

“The current silicon technology can’t be used in harsh environments because they can’t survive a long time in conditions of high temperature and corrosion,” Dinh said.

“The sensors I have developed can operate in up to 600 degrees Celsius for a wide range of applications, including oil and gas industries and aerospace technologies.”

Although taking up a size tinier than human hair, the sensors can perform a thousand times better than conventional sensors, according to the USQ.

Dinh added that they could detect and measure the tiniest movements in the environment, as well as monitor the structural health of a system in real time in case of any changes or faults.

“This can help prevent a major system failure from occurring, not only reducing maintenance costs but potentially avert a catastrophic situation that could lead to injury or death,” he said.

“… It is critically important we make working conditions safer for miners and more efficient.”

Dinh has received a $440,675 grant from the Australian Research Council to further develop his research.

He plans to collaborate with researchers at NASA’s jet propulsion laboratory in California to look at how the sensors could be used in space exploration.

“My goal is to start testing the sensors in real industry conditions as early as this year before they are ready for commercialisation,” Dinh concluded.