Ruggedised MicroSystem Technology for marine measurement

Lead Research Organisation: University of Southampton
Department Name: Electronics and Computer Science


The oceans play a crucial role in the prosperity and future of our civilisation; as a source of natural resources, as host to industry (e.g. transport and offshore energy) and in controlling climate (global warming). Marine environmental science has reached a bottleneck where further advances in knowledge and understanding of the oceans can only be obtained if a new generation of integrated multi-parametric sensors is developed, capable of mass-deployment in the oceans. This cross research council grant application (NERC/EPSRC) is aimed at solving this technology gap. Sensors that measure ocean life and chemistry (not to be confused with physical parameters; temperature etc) are extremely limited. Such measurements underpin many scientific fields, not least the accurate modelling of the oceans' role in climate change. In addition, these sensors are also required by many industrial sectors for routine high resolution, temporal monitoring of environment parameters.Current measurement methods are based on traditional sampling and laboratory analysis, although some macro sensors and devices are being developed. Clearly this approach which will never be able to measure the oceans with sufficient resolution in space and time. New innovative sensor technologies are required - this is the theme of this project. It is proposed to develop a new ruggedised Micro System Technology (RMST) to fabricate a new generation of integrated micro-devices capable of operating in harsh environments, without bulky, expensive and power hungry support systems. The project will focus on two classes of sensing systems: Lab-on-a-chip chemical analysers to detect nutrients and pollutants at the ultra low concentrations found in the oceans; and miniature cytometers to sample and identify individual phytoplankton in the oceans. The systems will be benchmarked against traditional lab-based analytical methods and field tested in the oceans and in Scottish sea lochs aboard submersible gliders, autonomous submarines and profiling floats.


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Description This project developed a radical new technology (Ruggedised Micro System Technology (RMST)) for in-situ sensing and measurement of key biogeochemical parameters in the oceans. Test-bed systems have been fabricated and deployed in the oceans. The findings and outcomes were

1. Development of a suite of techniques for in-situ sensing of key biogeochemical oceanographic parameters. Specifically we developed new fabrication techniques to manufacture micro-systems capable of operating in harsh environments; strategies to enable ultra-low level detection of chemistry and biology in the ocean; designed and tested new-generations of actuators for harsh environment; and strategies for environmental and biofilm resistance and particle exclusion, including filters.

2. Design and manufacture of a new generation of microsystems capable of operating in harsh environments. Two complementary technologies were developed:

(a) Chemistry: in situ lab-on-a-chip (LOC) analyser for analysis of inorganic compounds.

(b) Marine organism analysis: in situ micro-flow cytometer for phytoplankton detection and speciation.

In addition a new generation of solid-state sensors for measuring Temperature, Salinity and Oxygen were also developed

The new miniature and deployable microsystems were benchmarked against state of the art instruments (laboratory flow-cytometers, automated chemical analysers). Finally, the systems were deployed in different areas, including the harsh fouling environment of the Southampton Solent Estuary; in the deep sea (to 1600m); in Glacial melt streams; and on-board Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (profiling floats) in Scottish sea lochs in winter which provided real world validation of robustness and performance.
Exploitation Route The research from this project has applications in almost any sector where high quality, long term analysis of water is required. Examples includes monitoring water quality in rivers and reservoirs, monitoring discharge outlets from industry, oil and gas discovery and safety, borehole monitoring.. The large multi-sector project has led to several different exploitation routes. The project led to a new ruggedised core transferable technology platform, that has been exploited in a number of different commercialisation routes, in many different sectors. The research has led to 4 granted patents. Different aspects of the technology have been licenced to different companies, depending on the degree of maturity. For example, more mature sensing technology is licenced to a large multi-international instrumentation company. We are are also in the process of licencing and trialing technologies for other sectors and industries, including oil companies, environment agency, defence sector, and manufacturers of marine and inshore environmental sensing technologies.
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment,Healthcare

Description This project developed rugged sensors that are now deployed in the oceans to measure physical parameters (temperature, salinity and oxygen), chemistry and biology. We made the world's first such systems and demonstrated that they could be use to continuously measure nutrients such as nitrate, nitrite and phosphate. These sensors are being commercialised and will be cost-effective enough to enable mass deployment in the seas thus enabling high spatial and temporal monitoring of the health of the oceans.
First Year Of Impact 2010
Sector Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Environment
Impact Types Societal,Economic

Title Apparatus for sensing at least one parameter in water - combined conductivity and DO sensor 
Description A miniature combined dissolved oxygen and conductivity sensor for high accuracy metrology. 
IP Reference US20150192534 
Protection Patent granted
Year Protection Granted 2015
Licensed Yes
Impact None
Title Apparatus with a Self-Cleaning Electrode for sensing at least one parameter in water. 
Description Marine Sensor with dissolved oxygen sensor, salinity sensor, temperature sensor and self cleaning mechanism. 
IP Reference US20150226697 
Protection Patent granted
Year Protection Granted 2015
Licensed Yes
Impact None
Title Dissolved Oxygen sensor with electrode conditioning waveform applied between measurements 
Description Miniature sensor for dissolved oxygen, salinity and temperature. Operates in a flow and has high accuracy and stability. Patent describes actual driving waveforms. 
IP Reference US20150212040 
Protection Patent granted
Year Protection Granted 2015
Licensed Yes
Impact None at present
Description An absorption cell for microfluidic chemical analysis made from tinted or coloured polymers, for example polymethylmethacrylate (PMMA), in which microfluidic channels are cut. Light is coupled into the absorption cell via two windows (typically 200 um thick) that are retained at either end of the channel. Absorption is measured using a light source, such as a light emitting diode (LED) and a photodiode butted against the windows. Spurious scattered and/or reflected light is absorbed by the coloured polymer over the length of the measurement cell, while very little light loss occurs at the coupling windows. 
IP Reference US2014176952 
Protection Patent granted
Year Protection Granted 2014
Licensed Yes
Impact None