GE develops bio-inspired sensor

main2539Three years ago, GE scientists discovered that nanostructures from wing scales of butterflies exhibited acute chemical sensing properties. Since then they have been developing a dynamic, new sensing platform that replicates these unique properties.

Radislav Potyrailo, a principal scientist at GE Global Research and principal investigator, said, “GE’s bio-inspired sensing platform could dramatically increase sensitivity, speed and accuracy for detecting dangerous chemical threats. All of these factors are critical, not only from the standpoint of preventing exposure, but in monitoring an effective medical response if necessary to deal with such threats.”

Potyrailo noted that GE’s sensors can be made in very small sizes, with low production costs. This would allow large volumes of these sensors to be readily produced and deployed wherever needed. Unique sensing properties, combined with the size and production advantages offered by the bio-inspired sensors, could enable an array of other important industrial and healthcare applications, including:

• Emissions monitoring at power plants
• Food and beverage safety monitoring
• Water purification testing for home, environmental and industrial applications
• Breath analysis for disease detection
• Wound healing assessment

Potyrailo said, “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”.

The development in collaboration with Air Force Research Laboratory, State University at Albany, and University of Exeter,is being funded with a $6.3 million award from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

DARPA Program Manager Viktoria Greanya, Ph.D., said: “We have been greatly inspired by examples of naturally occurring optical structures whose properties arise from an intricate 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. DARPA’s goal in this program is to harness the best of nature’s own photonic structures and use advances in materials technology to create controllable photonic devices at visible and near-infrared wavelengths.”


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