Annual Research Conference – The Highlights

28 01 2013

Last weeks internal research conference was a great success. Not only was it the first time that I haven’t been dragged into the organisation, but we made a good job of winning the prizes …

Sandip narrowly beat Neal to the poster prize with his work on the development of gas sensor arrays, following on from Ben Furnival.

SiC gas array high temperature

The winning poster

Neal took second with his work on amplifier structures for hostile environments, an area which will support a lot of our other work in sensor development.

SiC amplifier hostile environment

SiC Amplifier structures

On top of this, Lucy won the best presentation award, beating Karthik into second place. Her presentation used Prezi, which was something new to me and judging by the comments in the audience was new to most of us. She then went on to win the second best paper prize, making it a good day out for us all.





Another year ends

30 12 2012

What a year 2012 turned out to be. Ben took the big step and didn’t just write his thesis, he then passed his viva and in the run up to Christmas got his pass list as well.

Thesis completed Ben Furnival

Ben’s completed thesis

That makes it 10 students completed so far and with Hassan finishing his corrections (number 11), that suggests that Amit will be number 12 when he finishes the last of the suggested comments and submits sometime in January.

In November I went to the IEEE Sensors conference in Taipei. Despite the perpetual rain (just like Newcastle but around 20 degrees warmer) and we got the chance for a trip to the top of Taipei 101. Unfortunately, it was dark by then and in the rain, the view was a bit muted. On the other hand, 400 engineers trying to view the damper ball at the top of the tower was well worth the trip!

Taipei 101 IEEE Sensors

View of Taipei 101

All three of our papers made it in this year, which is a massive achievement. This was enhanced when our paper on the effect of functionalisation on the performance of graphene sensors was voted the best paper in the ‘Gas and Chemical Sensors’ track and shortlisted for the overall first prize. We have also been invited to submit a more comprehensive version of the work to their ‘Best of IEEE Sensors 2012’ publication

graphene sensor IEEE solvent

Top billing for the Graphene Sensors talks

Loads more happened in 2012, including a really exciting development with the British Science Festival, so more soon!





A week of contrasts

22 04 2012

The end of another week and this one has shown the usual ups and downs. Firstly, Sandip joined us to take up the PhD studentship on our EPSRC project on Monday. His first job was to write an abstract for the ECSCRM 2012 deadline, which was Friday the 20th of April. With eight abstracts being submitted by us this year, it was a relief when they extended the deadline to the 30th, as some people still hadn’t finished writing theirs by lunchtime on Friday.

My trip to the NMI meeting on Tuesday was great. Flying in a small, turbo prop plane in high winds and driving rain is never much fun, but the talk went well and I got to speak to a good number of interesting people. Hopefully some of these will translate into collaborations for the future. Just inside the MTC at Ansty (which is a spectacular looking building) is an amazing sight …

Bentley Le Mans Winner 2003

Wednesday brought an opportunity for a properly ‘techy day’, John and Anna from the Space Research Centre at Leicester University came to have a chat about our ongoing work developing Silicon Carbide radiation detectors. There’s plenty of scope here for some interesting developments in the future, so watch this space.

Finally, during one of the obligatory trips to a well known DIY store, it appears that the nice people at JCB know more about my dressing habits than I do …

JCB Alton Hoodie B&Q

I guess it is referring to Alton, a town in Staffordshire which is famous for an amusement park





National Microelectronics Institute

16 04 2012

Just finished my talk for tomorrows day out at the Manufacturing Technology Centre, hosted by the National Microelectronics Institute. It’s an opportunity to talk about the work we have been undertaking in power electronics using Silicon Carbide. It’s certainly interesting how rapid the change has been in this field, with efficiencies of over 95% now being reported. Our work is in the idea of novel topologies and gate drive circuits to enable SiC to move forward. Some of this work was presented by Omid at the PECI conference last month and won him the best paper award, so this is obviously a topical area! The presentation I am giving can be downloaded from here.

NMI Talk – 17th April 2012





The Hasselt Diamond Conference

10 04 2012

Amit has been off to the Hasselt Diamond Conference to showcase his work on the functionalisation of diamond surfaces, with a view to understanding their suitability for manufacturing thermionic converters. The key for this application is the realisation of a thermally stable, negative electron affinity surface, which will enhance the electron emission properties. This is an interesting challenge in three parts, the understanding of the surface, modelling the behaviour of two surfaces in close proximity and the non trivial engineering challenge of placing two atomically flat surfaces only a few nanometers apart in a vacuum. His work is a follow on to the paper we published in Physical Review B at the end of 2011 and includes some recent observations on metal terminated surfaces.

Hasselt Diamond conference functionalisation poster

It’s not all hard work at a conference though and Amit spotted a fantastic advert. It seems strange that a UK based company doesn’t use this type of advertising here …

Strongbow advert

Don’t know why, but for some reason, it appears that this image will only insert sideways …





IEEE Sensors – Day 2

30 10 2011

Another packed day here in Limerick. The plenary looked at the developments in sensing technology applied to the mobile phone market and how this will enable ‘The Internet of Everything’. Current research in this field include the use of ultrasonic transducers to communicate with your smart phone (they can hear it even if we can’t), chemical sensors in smart phones for first responders and MEMs based particulate monitors. However, despite the increase in processing power now common in phones (1GHz processors are in our pockets now – that’ the equivalent of 25 Pentium PCs) it’s still the LCD display which drains the battery. There’s a good summary relating to the application of energy harvesting to this problem, which is Vullers, et al, Solid State Electronics, Vol 53 (2008) pp684.

From there, it was off to listen to the application of emergent behaviour to groups of sensors. This showed that it is possible to realise the optimisation of a group of sensors by enabling them to sense their local environment and communicate only with their immediate neighbour. Whilst the application described the minimisation of noise levels in aircraft engines, this has the potential to offer a complete paradigm shift in how we make decisions from a large sensor installation. The next talk, focussed on the development of MEMs based logic structures for hostile environments, mostly targeting ionising radiation and high temperatures. Based on tungsten contacts, this does ask the question about neutron activation, especially as it becomes a gamma emitter with a 24 hour half life! The results though were very encouraging, demonstrating 2V activation and a 100MHz limit, with a 1uW leakage power and a lifetime of 10^9 operations.

A talk on SiC based detectors showed a significant piece of work on understanding H2S detection, through the use of Density Functional Theory (DFT) simulations. This showed that Ir based devices are more stable at high temperatures and have a higher sensitivity than Pt and this is related to the higher oxygen coverage of the surface. However, these results are taken in a 5% oxygen background.

IEEE Sensors poster extreme gas

Waiting for questions at the poster

This afternoon it was the poster session and so I spent the afternoon fielding questions about our work on high temperature HfO2 dielectric sensors. This seems to have attracted a good level of interest and two hours flew by talking to a wide array of people. Hopefully some of this interest will be followed up with some interesting collaborations for the future. As for now, it’s the end of this part of the day and it’s off to Thomond Park, the home of Munster rugby club for the gala dinner, once we get ours glad rags on.





IEEE Sensors Day 1

29 10 2011

A great start to the conference. The opening plenary by Prof Julian Jones from Heriott Watt University was a good introduction to the development and application of fibre interferometry, including work he has undertaken in photonics crystal fibres. This includes the use of photonics crystal fibres, which allow the transmission of longer wavelength light, even though the core is still fabricated from silica. These have also been used to sense hydrogen, by use of a palladium coating.

Then it was a full session looking at gas sensors. This year, there is interest in non contact techniques, such as the one demonstrated by Martin Eickhoff, which used GaN and InGaN nano wires to investigate the concentration of explosive gases, with a sensitivity to hydrogen of around 50ppm at 80C. This was followed by our paper on DNA templates Pd nano wires, which is available in one of the previous posts.

DNA templated Pd nanowires sensor

Alton in the middle of the presentation at IEEE Sensors

This was followed by another talk on hydrogen sensing using WO3 nano particles and carbon nanotubes, before I went off to watch a couple of talks on energy harvesting, following on from the work Simon completed for his thesis.

After a coffee break, the gas sensor talks continued, with the first two concentrating on the use of graphene to form sensor arrays, with the intention of realising electronic noses. The graphene in these two presentations comes from the chemical reduction of graphite oxide and is then dispersed in water, prior to application to the electrodes. The sensitivity of this type of graphene is high, because of the functionalisation of the surface and the high defect density. One interesting fact from these talks is the use of CuO to detect acetone, something which is not possible using a graphene alone. After this, two talks on the development of silicon carbide sensors, which were interesting and showed an improvement on previous work in this field. This was achieved in the main with significant signal processing of the results, and as a result it is possible to identify the concentration of gas species. This has the potential to be a critical enabling step in the quest for commercial applications of SiC gas sensors.

The last talk prior to lunch, was reporting on the 1/f noise of gas sensors, something which we may well consider for our SiC devices in the future. The trend shows a different shape, as well as magnitude, with different gas species and concentration. This is thought to be linked to the adsorption / desorption of gas from the surface of the sensor.

After lunch, the posters. The majority were not related to our interest in gas sensors, so it was a chance to catch our breath in time for the final talks of the day. An interesting session, which discussed the suitability of langasite as a suitable material for acoustic sensors in high temperature environments. Apparently this is available commercially and it appears that it might make an interesting piezomaterial for high temperature energy harvesting.

Not bad for the first day, and there’s still two more to go!