Sensors in Extreme Environments

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leicester
Department Name: Physics and Astronomy

Abstract

Of all the environments likely to be encountered during the pursuit of science, commerce or medicine, few can match the extremes encountered in Space. Instrumentation deployed above the Earth's protective atmosphere and magnetic field can be subject to extreme low pressure (or extreme high pressure in the case of descent through dense atmospheres), charged particle fluxes which would render conventional electronics inoperative, temperature variations of hundreds of degrees in a few minutes, violent vibration during launch and landing, and a number of other hostile elements any one of which terrestrial systems are seldom required to tolerate. Yet hardware deployed in this most extreme of environments must function unattended for the duration of a mission / often several years / and must achieve the high performance required of them in miniaturised, low mass, power-efficient packages. It is therefore unsurprising that space instrumentation is one of the most demanding fields of sensor development, or that devices developed for this application frequently possess characteristics which make them ideal for adaptation to extreme or exacting applications on Earth.This proposal describes the creation of a new research group - the Space and Hazardous Environments Sensors Group - specialising in the development of new sensor technologies for extreme environments. The main research theme will be in the development of devices for space, and the group will adopt a proactive approach to sensor development enabling it to respond to a wide range of mission opportunities with established agencies such as ESA. A key strategy of the group will be to develop new technologies which address the longer term goals of these agencies, and, supported by a network of academic and industrial partners, we will further extend collaboration with research groups working in other areas of detector research (bio-medical, industrial). We will also seek to broaden its funding base through the commercialisation of selected technologies, and the group includes a Technology Translator who has expertise in this area.The Space and Hazardous Environment Sensors Group is comprised of a number of younger researchers in the Space Research Centre, and is led by the applicant. Mechanical and electronic engineering support is also provided by younger members of the Centre, but in all cases the assistance of more experienced members of the organisation is available, as is the full equipment and organisational infrastructure of the Space Research Centre (as evidenced by a letter of support by the Head of Department). A number of exciting new technologies are identified in the proposal as prime areas of research in the first 5 years of the group's work, and this work will lead to the Space and Hazardous Environment Sensors Group establishing an international reputation for excellence in developing detector technologies for space and a wide variety of challenging environments on Earth - from within the human body to the centre of nuclear power installations.

Publications

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Bannister N (2011) Communication Challenges for Solar System Exploration Missions in Proceedings of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, Part G: Journal of Aerospace Engineering

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Bannister NP (2014) Spectroscopic measurements in scleritis: bluish-red or deep red? in The British journal of ophthalmology

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Williams H (2010) A Mars hopping vehicle propelled by a radioisotope thermal rocket: thermofluid design and materials selection in Proceedings of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences

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Williams H (2012) A conceptual spacecraft radioisotope thermoelectric and heating unit (RTHU) in International Journal of Energy Research

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Williams H (2011) Mars reconnaissance lander: Vehicle and mission design in Planetary and Space Science

 
Description Space Nuclear Power Development
Geographic Reach Europe 
Policy Influence Type Citation in other policy documents
 
Description East Midlands Development Agency
Amount £16,000 (GBP)
Funding ID HIRF 493 
Organisation East Midlands Development Agency 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2011 
End 01/2012
 
Description European Space Agency
Amount £41,373 (GBP)
Funding ID AO/1-6359/10/NL/AF 
Organisation European Space Agency 
Sector Public
Country France
Start 04/2010 
 
Description European Space Agency
Amount £507,732 (GBP)
Funding ID 23026/10/NL/AT 
Organisation European Space Agency 
Sector Public
Country France
Start 12/2010 
End 12/2011
 
Description Mini Innovation Partnership Scheme
Amount £30,912 (GBP)
Funding ID ST/K003054/1 
Organisation Science and Technologies Facilities Council (STFC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 08/2012 
End 07/2013
 
Description Dr Simon Kilvington: Microbiology 
Organisation University of Leicester
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution By placing our instrumentation in the microbiology laboratory, the project is providing the opportunity to evaluate the usefulness of high resolution fluorescence spectrometry in the characterisation of microbiological specimens that are responsible for infection, and more generally, to assess the value of the technique in the microbiology laboratory.
Collaborator Contribution Our early work has shown that the instrumentation and technique is capable of identifying a range of distinct spectral signatures in blood agar plate samples. The involvement of Dr Kilvington is critical in enabling the project to demonstrate the reproducible identification of a wide range of clinically significant microorganisms, through an initial survey phase followed by a series of double-blind trials, and is the key step needed to take the concept through to clinical trial stage.
Impact The collaboration is at an early stage with the first cultures currently being grown; the first spectroscopic results are expected within the next 4 weeks.
Start Year 2014
 
Description Mr Jeremy Prydal: Ophthalmology 
Organisation University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Provision of expertise in the application of spectroscopic techniques in ophthalmology and other medical fields. Instrument design and data analysis techniques.
Collaborator Contribution Clinical leadership in the development of instrumentation for medical applications. Access to equipment in hospital laboratories and consulting rooms and provision of portable equipment for use in our own laboratories.
Impact Research paper on Scleritis (Bannister, Prydal et al). IP filing. Funding beyond the initial grant period covered by the EPSRC award.
Start Year 2009