Stream Leader: Professor Dermot Diamond
This research stream covers aspects of the fundamental science which underpins next generation devices for environmental and wearable sensors. The challenges within this research stream include making fundamental breakthroughs in materials science through adaptive materials, new approaches to power-efficient transport or microfluidic volumes of liquids as part of the sensing process, and finally the integration of fluidics into functional sensing devices.
The materials component of this Research Stream is focused on understanding the molecular basis for observable characteristics, and generating new ‘adaptive’ materials. Such materials have characteristics which can switch dynamically between various states that allow manipulation of fundamental characteristics such as surface energy, polarity, dielectric constant, colour, chemical/biological activity, etc. The existing paradigm is to produce materials with (as far as possible) tailored consistent properties. In contrast, adaptive materials will become critical components of more complex structures that are capable of self- or externally-triggered activation between states (swell/contract, block/enable molecular transport, switch on/off molecular binding).
As part of the devices component of this Research Stream, adaptive materials are integrated into next generation sensors at the sensing device level. New approaches to fluid handling are investigated specifically in the context of providing orders of magnitude improvements in characteristics such as energy/reagent consumption, and controlled transport for sampling, and reagent/standard addition and calibration in biomimetic fluidic manifolds. The focus on power minimisation and controlled functionality extends to circuit design, leading to close integration of circuitry with adaptive materials and fluid handling, and also to a dedicated design effort for other sensor modalities (e.g. audio-visual) that present significant future challenges for configurable sensor platform development. This integrated research stream has strong links to the Sensor Web Platforms Research Stream and to the demonstrator projects, through the provision of fundamental building blocks for more sophisticated ‘platform’ devices.
CLARITY researchers have developed a sweat patch which allows real-time collection and testing of the pH of human perspiration during exercise. Monitoring sweat can help to ensure that an athlete remains hydrated, important for the health and sports performance of the athlete.
A portable sensor for the analysis of phosphate in environmental waters, such as rivers and lakes, has been developed by CLARITY researchers. As well as microfluidic technology, this sensor incorporates colorimetric detection and wireless communications into a compact and rugged portable device. The detection method used is the molybdenum yellow method, in which a strong yellow colour indicates high phosphate concentrations.