UF Team Works To Create Most Resilient Sensor on Earth (UF Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering)

UF Team Works to Create Most Resilient Sensor on Earth

A diverse team led by three ECE Florida faculty members is set to receive funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to design and fabricate dynamic pressure sensors capable of performing at temperatures upwards of 800 °C (1472 °F), over a factor of 6X higher than any integrated pressure sensor currently in use. The $6.6M project, funded as part of the DARPA High Operational Temperature Sensors (HOTS) program, seeks to enable the creation of electronics and sensors integral to industrial, military, and space applications. The core team comprises Dr. Mark Sheplak (lead PI), Dr. Roozbeh Tabrizian, and Dr. Philip Feng.

Most sensors and electronic devices are designed to perform up to a temperature of 125ºC. In a variety of situations (think hypersonic air vehicles, inside combustion chambers, on the surface of other planets), it would be helpful to be able to measure the fluctuating pressure on a particular surface in an extreme environment. Currently, no sensors can take the heat. The HOTS program challenged researchers to create devices not only capable of withstanding such temperatures but also delivering reliable operations up to a million times every second, thus requiring a sensor bandwidth of 1MHz.

From the DARPA program description:

“…the capabilities of sensors can be inhibited by thermal limitations. A sensor may theoretically be able to process inputs such as speed, pressure, or the integrity of a mechanical component, but inside a turbine engine, temperatures far exceed what any existing sensor can withstand. However, if we can design, integrate, and demonstrate high-performance physical sensors that can operate in high-temperature environments, we can advance toward systems that perform at the edge of their capability instead of the limits of uncertainty.”

Technical problems in extreme-temperature pressure sensing have persisted since at least as early as the beginning of hypersonics research in late 1946. Then the term was coined by Cal Tech aerodynamicist Hsue-Shen Tsien. When Sheplak began his dissertation work in the early 1990s at NASA-Langley Research Center in instrumentation development for hypersonic turbulent boundary layer measurements, it was still an open problem. It’s only relatively recently — with advances in materials science, high-bandgap semiconductor circuit design, and MEMS technologies — that the fundamental problems can be tackled in earnest.

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