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Communications and External Relations
Consumers stand to benefit from ORNL optical sensor
OAK RIDGE, Tenn.,
June 13, 1996
Motorists who want reassurance they are getting what they're paying for at the gas pump may be in luck if an optical spectrometer developed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) has the impact researchers expect it to have.
In addition to its use as a gasoline octane analyzer, the microspectrometer, developed by researchers in the Department of Energy (DOE) laboratory, has numerous other applications. It can be used for non-invasive - and therefore painless - blood chemistry analysis, environmental monitoring, industrial process control, chemical warfare detection and aircraft corrosion monitoring. Possibilities for the device, which is about the size of a computer mouse, are virtually endless, according to Slo Rajic, principal developer and a member of ORNL's Engineering Technology Division.
"The microspectrometer is an optical device that sorts light according to wavelengths and detects the presence of a variety of chemicals," Rajic said. "What's really great is that it's relatively inexpensive and can be customized for a variety of applications."
The device, which can be made from a special kind of plastic, contains multiple precision surfaces that diffract light that enters the unit through an aperture consisting of an optical fiber input. This fiber is attached to a fiber optic connector that is positioned directly onto the entrance surface so, unlike other spectrometers, no alignment is required.
"What separates this unit from others on the market is the fabrication technology that allows construction of low-cost, high-performance, completely alignment-free systems," Rajic said.
Another key to ORNL's microspectrometer is the ultra-precise single-point diamond turning fabrication technology developed at ORNL. This technique involves precision machining that produces optics-quality surfaces that need little polishing.
ORNL's microspectrometer could be inserted in the filler tube of an automobile's gasoline tank and configured to detect the octane of gas. Configured differently, to detect other portions of the spectral range, the device can be used as a laser warning receiver, for plasma diagnostics or for wavelength division multiplexing for fiber-optic telecommunications systems.
"This product and the associated fabrication technology could significantly affect many markets," Rajic said. "Unlike some of the 'minispectrometers' in use, this system is not merely a scaled-down version of a larger system. It's a completely new and revolutionary approach that is opening new applications."
Other researchers who played a part in developing the microspectrometer are Boyd Evans, Charles Egert, Joe Cunningham and Troy Marlar. The research was supported by DOE's Laboratory Directed Research and Development fund.
ORNL, one of DOE's multiprogram research facilities, is managed by Lockheed Martin Energy Research Corporation.