Researchers in the Georgia Tech School of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) are hoping to break new ground as they work to develop what would end up being the world’s sturdiest sensor.

ECE associate professor Azadeh Ansari was awarded a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) grant to develop pressure sensors technologies that can operate at extreme temperatures.

The desired sensors are being designed to be highly accurate and have a high-dynamic-range at temperatures of over 800 C (1472 F).

Ansari is leading one of seven teams selected as part of DARPA’s High Operational Temperature Sensors (HOTS) program, with each team using vastly different methods to accomplish this novel feat.

Sensors are used across many commercial and defense systems, but progress is being impeded by thermal restrictions, with current widely available sensor technology only capable of operating at temperatures of around 300 C. And even these still suffer from inconsistent resolution (sensitivity) and accuracy, along with a limited range.


“There’s a lot of issues that can arise at 800 C, so this project is mitigating all those adverse effects while still getting a reasonable response at that temperature,” Ansari said.

Challenges in Extreme-Temperature Sensor Technology

Existing extreme-temperature sensor technology suffer from two shortcomings: inconsistent reliability due to Johnson–Nyquist noise or “thermal noise” generated in electronics at high temperatures and unreliable mechanical durability at high temperatures.

Additionally, they use many different materials that all have different coefficients of thermal expansion (CTE), meaning each different material expands a different amount at high temperatures, and at different rates.

This uneven expansion causes disproportionate stress on certain parts, compromising the structural integrity of the sensors, eventually leading to failure.

Ansari is working with UCLA’s Elaheh Ahmadi, University of California, Santa Barbara’s (UCSB) Umesh Mishra and Matt Guidry, and Mina Rais-Zadeh from the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).

“My group has done similar research, but not at 800 C applications,” Ansari said. “Now we’re seeing what happens when you crank up the temperature that much.”

Testing the Unprecedented

Ansari’s group at Georgia Tech will be responsible for the development of sensor technology, while the researchers at UCLA and UCSB are responsible for the transistors and accompanying electronics.

This technology is so unprecedented that there’s currently very few facilities to even test the prototypes.

JPL, which is helping to test the prototypes before they’re presented, test instruments that are used on the surface on the planet Venus. But even that only requires capabilities up to 500 C.

On top of the creation of novel technology, another challenge will be expanding the testing capabilities to 800 C.

If successful, this research would have wide-reaching effects, being used across many industries and accelerating the advancement of important technology like next-generation turbine engines and high-speed flight.

“This is revolutionary,” Azadeh said. “There’s a lot of unknowns trying to get good results in just one and half years. It’s stressful, but it’s also very exciting at the same time.”

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