Feeds

Super-tough wireless sensors 'to be dropped into volcanoes'

Anakin Skywalker? Big girls' blouse

The essential guide to IT transformation

Topflight engineers based in Newcastle have hit upon a radical plan for warning of volcanic eruptions. They intend to build a heatproof sensor unit which can be dropped into a volcano's caldera and wirelessly transmit data to monitoring stations despite being possibly immersed in molten rock.

"At the moment we have no way of accurately monitoring the situation inside a volcano and in fact most data collection actually goes on post-eruption. With an estimated 500 million people living in the shadow of a volcano this is clearly not ideal," explains Dr Alton Horsfall of Newcastle uni's Centre for Extreme Environment Technology.

"We still have some way to go but using silicon carbide technology we hope to develop a wireless communication system that could accurately collect and transmit chemical data from the very depths of a volcano."

The Newcastle boffins say their silicon-carbide electronics would be used to measure small changes in the levels of certain gases within the caldera - for instance the dioxides of sulphur and carbon - so providing early warning of possible eruptions.

According to Horsfall and his fellow nails-tough tech developers, their carbide electronics can keep working up to temperatures of 900°C. This is actually sufficient to withstand immersion in some lavas/magmas, though by no means all. In any case it's difficult to see how any wireless signal could be transmitted through molten minerals, so presumably the inventors are talking more about locating their kit in places within a caldera which - although extremely hot - are not enough so to actually melt rock.

In any case the volcano application is merely the headliner that the boffins have chosen to publicise their inventions. The Centre for Extreme Environment Tech has wider aspirations including the use of their kit in nuclear reactors, underwater, inside the blazing guts of jet engines or even in space.

"The situations we are planning to use our technology in means it’s not enough for the electronics to simply withstand extremes of temperature, pressure or radiation – they have to continue operating absolutely accurately and reliably," says Prof Nick Wright, Newcastle pro-vicechancellor. It's well known that ionising radiation, for instance - as found in nuclear machinery and throughout space beyond Earth's protective magnetic field - is hell on regular electronics.

"Increasingly mankind is spreading out into harsher and more extreme environments as our population grows and we explore new areas for possible sources of energy and food in order to sustain it," says Wright.

"But with this comes new challenges and this is why research into extreme technologies is becoming ever more important."

There's more on extreme tech from Newcastle uni here. ®

Gartner critical capabilities for enterprise endpoint backup

More from The Register

next story
Boffins attempt to prove the UNIVERSE IS JUST A HOLOGRAM
Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?
Our LOHAN spaceplane ballocket Kickstarter climbs through £8000
Through 25 per cent but more is needed: Get your UNIQUE rewards!
China building SUPERSONIC SUBMARINE that travels in a BUBBLE
Shanghai to San Fran in two hours would be a trick, though
SpaceX prototype rocket EXPLODES over Texas. 'Tricky' biz, says Elon Musk
No injuries or near injuries. Flight stayed in designated area
Galileo, Galileo! Galileo, Galileo! Galileo fit to go. Magnifico
I'm just a poor boy, nobody loves me. But at least I can find my way with ESA GPS by 2017
Astronomers scramble for obs on new comet
Amateur gets fifth confirmed discovery
prev story

Whitepapers

Best practices for enterprise data
Discussing how technology providers have innovated in order to solve new challenges, creating a new framework for enterprise data.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Advanced data protection for your virtualized environments
Find a natural fit for optimizing protection for the often resource-constrained data protection process found in virtual environments.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?