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CAST’s Sun: The Sensor

By janani – Posted on 22 August 2011

As the planets revolve around its main source of energy, the Sun, the members of CAST turn to sensors as the ultimate solution to a variety of problems. As Dr. Dan Kostov, an electrical engineer at CAST, puts it, “We have the how, now we need the why.”

Speaking with Dr. Kostov earlier gave a unique description of the sensor as a system that is half chemistry and half electronics. The device consists of optical electronics, a “stick-on” patch incorporating 7-8 layers of specifically designed chemicals, and a transducer. It is the brainchild of chemical engineers, electrical engineers, chemists, mechanical engineers, as well as many other highly-qualified researchers.

The sensor measures a distinct change in a specific property of an analyte. The sensor detects this change and converts it into a measurable quantity through a transducer. The unique and impressive quality about this device is its universal use and size. For example, Dr. Lam is leading a project for temperature sensors for premature babies, Dr. Tolosa is working on a sensor to check metabolites in the human body, and Dr. Ge is developing CO2 sensors for oceanic monitoring, just to name a few.

Dr. Dan Kostov has the privilege of having a hand in all of the devices created because the optical electronics within a sensor must be tweaked depending on the sensor’s job, whether it is a polarization, intensity, time characteristics, or spectrum. His work is both to make the sample and the measuring instrument compatible, but also to shrink the instrument in size. He demonstrates this dramatic change through the transformation of a fluorometer from a big bulky device into a small patch that fits in your hand.

Before, researchers had to move a sample from a bioreactor into the fluorometer to measure the light passing through a solution. Now, thanks to extensive research conducted at CAST, the fluorometer is attached securely to the bioreactor and measurements are taken immediately and while the bioprocess is occurring. The sensor’s benefits are clear: we are now able to take more accurate and time-efficient measurements.