Thursday, July 14, 2011

Second Week Progress

I have made a lot of progress during our second week.  I have learned a great deal about basic research and the complexities of working in a laboratory environment.  Let me talk about the specific project I am working on.

The basic idea for the project is to be able to develop a sensor that can "sniff" the air for vapors given off by explosive materials like TNT.  The sensor needs to be very accurate and be able to detect very small  amounts of the explosive material.  The long-term goal of the sensor is that it would be able to replace a bomb-sniffing dog.

The focus of the summer research for teachers is two-fold.  First, we are to design and program a robot that would be able to carry the sensor into a hazardous area, expose the sensor, and then return it for analysis.  We are to use the Lego Mindstorm NXT kit to build the robot.  The programming of the robot is meant to be completed using LabView software  The second portion of the project is to continue with the basic testing of the sensor to understand its capabilities in different situations.

Marvin and I have been building our robot "car" to be radio controlled so we could drive it to/from the site of the possible explosive materials while carrying the chip.  We are modifying our car so that it will keep the sensor covered until it is at the site we want to test for explosive materials.  This week we also have been working to develop the software programming required to not only maneuver the car, but also activate the lifting device for the sensor's cover.  We are programming our robot in both NXT 2.0 as well as LabView 2009.

The basic technology of the sensor and its analysis after being exposed to explosive materials has been previously established through laboratory-based experiments conducted by Dr. Reinhard's group.  We have proposed to test the sensor is a more "real world" application.  We want to determine the effectiveness of the sensor in being able to detect the presence of the explosive vapor at specific distances from the explosive source.

This week we have started to fabricate the chips necessary to act as the required sensors.  Based on the earlier testing, we plan to keep the concentration of the explosive material constant (15 ppb) and use the optimum exposure time of five minutes.  The two variables we plan to test would be the distance the sensor is from the explosive material and the ability to test the sensor outside the typically controlled laboratory environment.  We have developed a draft testing plan and have sent it to the grad students that have been helping us for their review and comment.

Next week we will complete the fabrication of our chips so we can start to perform our initial testing.  Based on the results of this testing, we will either move forward with the rest of our testing plan or revised the plan.

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