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Lad Leads Team Developing Instruments to Operate in Extreme Industrial Environments

The National Science Foundation has awarded a $722,500 grant to a team of researchers in the Laboratory for Surface Science & Technology (LASST) at the University of Maine to develop ceramic-based nanocomposite thin film materials to be used in sensors operating in harsh high-temperature environments.

Miniature sensors that can withstand the intense heat inside machinery such as turbine engines, combustion burners, power plant boilers, oil and gas drilling machinery, and ceramics manufacturing equipment can provide critical information to reduce overall energy usage and increase the lifetime of expensive machinery.

Unfortunately, thin film materials used in the manufacture of sensors rapidly degrade in most industrial conditions, making the sensors unreliable and short-lived.

“There is a real need to develop stable films and reliable sensors for harsh environments above 1,000 degrees Celsius,” says Robert Lad, UMaine physics professor and principal investigator for the project, “since significant cost savings can be gotten by using sensor data to more efficiently operate complex high-temperature machinery.”

The UMaine team, which includes three graduate students and four undergraduates, is working on atomic scale synthesis of multi-layered nanocomposite thin film structures using a combination of boride and silicide materials integrated with platinum and other materials.

The films will be deposited onto several prototype sensor devices and tested inside controlled-environment laboratory furnaces and within small-scale turbine engines.

UMaine researchers in LASST have been developing sensor technology for a number of years and in 2008 demonstrated the operation of a wireless high-temperature acoustic wave sensor as high as 800 degrees Celsius in a jet engine for the Air Force.

The NSF award is part of a new Sustainable Chemistry, Engineering, and Materials (SusChEM) initiative aimed at “enabling the basic science and engineering discoveries that will reduce dependence on nonrenewable energy resources and improve the efficiency of industrial processes.”

Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777


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