By manipulating zinc oxide, a material traditionally used in ceramics, glass and paint, researchers at the University of Surrey’s Advanced Technology Institute have produced an ultra-sensitive UV light sensor which could improve fire and gas detection. The researchers produced nanowires from this readily available material to create a ultra-violet light detector which is 10,000 times more sensitive to UV light than a traditional zinc oxide detector.
Currently, photoelectric smoke sensors detect larger smoke particles found in dense smoke, but are not as sensitive to small particles of smoke from rapidly burning fires.
The researchers believe that this new material could increase sensitivity and allow the sensor to detect distinct particles emitted at the early stages of fires. This could pave the way for specialist sensors that can be deployed in applications including fire and gas detection and air pollution monitoring. The team predict that the sensor could also be incorporated into smartphones and tablets to increase speed, with a response time 1,000 times faster than traditional zinc oxide detectors.
Professor Ravi Silva, co-author of the study and head of the Advanced Technology Institute, commented: “UV light detectors made from zinc oxide have been used widely for some time but we have taken the material a step further to massively increase its performance. Essentially, we transformed zinc oxide from a flat film to a structure with bristle-like nanowires, increasing surface area and therefore increasing sensitivity and reaction speed. This is a great example of a bespoke, designer nanomaterial that is adaptable to personal needs, yet still affordable. Due to the way in which this material is manufactured, it is ideally suited for use in future flexible electronics, a hugely exciting area."