Scientists at General Electric (GE)’s technology arm, GE Global Research, with the Air Forces Research Laboratory, State University at Albany, and university of Exeter, have received a four-year, $6.3 million award from the Defense Advance Research Project Agency (DARPA) to develop new bio-inspired nanostructured sensors for faster, more selective detection of dangerous warfare agents and explosives.
According to Radislav Potyrailo, principal scientist at GE Global Research, GE’s bio-inspired sensing platform can dramatically increase the sensitivity and accuracy for identifying hazardous chemical threats. Identification of chemical threats is crucial not only for preventing any or further exposure, but also in providing necessary medical responses necessary in dealing with such threats.
The sensors that GE can make can be produced in very small amounts; thus, incur lower production costs. The availability of such devices permits bulk production of these sensors for possible deployment when needed.
The principal scientist further stressed the use of the sensors as an effective means of collecting data and monitoring health threats. “Now, more than ever, sensors are being used to collect data on gas concentrations and to deliver important information about air conditions in localized regions or over large distributed areas.”
“This information can range from warning of impending chemical or health threats to more precisely measuring air quality at a power plant. The unique sensing properties of GE’s bio-inspired sensors provide an opportunity to improve the quality of this sensing data and the ability to collect this data at previously unavailable levels of detail,” Potyrailo added.
DARPA Program Manager Viktoria Greanya said that this initiative was inspired by the naturally occurring optical structures in the environment. The properties of these structures all came from a complex morphology. “For example, the brilliant colors seen in butterfly wings, beetle carapaces, and peacock feathers are due in large part to their complex structure, not simply their color.” This program was created by DARPA in hope of using nature’s photonic structures in combination with materials technology advances in creating controllable photonic devices in visible and near-infrared wavelengths.
GE has been developing dynamic sensing platforms that replicate the unique properties of wing scales of butterflies, which they have discovered three years ago. DARPA, upon seeing the potential of GE’s sensing technologies for improving homeland protection, is fully supporting this research project.