ECM Faculty Focus
Winthrop Professors Lorenzo Faraone and John Dell, and Professor Jarek Antoszewski, of UWA's Microelectronics Research Group aim for infrared technology to one day be as affordable and widespread as mobile phones with cameras.
The technology may one day enable a supermarket shopper determine whether a chicken is bacteria-free, help a general practitioner in a surgery determine if a mole needs to be tested for skin cancer, and provide farmers with real-time information about the condition of their soil as they spread fertiliser.
The two related projects on which their group is collaborating with scientists from the Australian National University, the University of Adelaide and the University of New Mexico, have won combined funding of almost $1 million from the Australian Research Council.
The $500,000 ARC Linkage Infrastructure Equipment and Facilities (LIEF) grant is for the establishment of an integrated infrared photodetector array fabrication capability, and the $485,000 ARC Discovery Project grant is to investigate the development of high-performance infrared technology at a significantly lower cost.
The projects follow the group's 2008 Eureka Prize-winning development of enhanced infrared sensing technologies for defence applications.
Professor Faraone said infrared sensing had been used in applications such as defence and security, mining, remote sensing and agriculture for some time, but its widespread application has been hindered because of its very high cost. Infrared sensing can be deployed from satellites kilometres above the surface of the Earth, or from an airborne platform, or only centimetres away from someone's arm or a piece of fruit.
"Different applications have different performance requirements," he said. "But basically the technology is the same whether you're measuring the infrared spectral signature of bacteria on meat, pesticide residues, chemical components of soil, protein in wheat, skin cancer, explosives residues or mineral deposits.
"Twenty years ago no one could have predicted that we'd all be carrying around mobile phones that could also take high quality digital photos. Such technology is highly sophisticated and technologically complex and, until it was produced in very high volumes, it was also very expensive. However, thanks to the technological marvel of microelectronics mass production, such products are very high quality, low cost and widespread.
"I believe that low-cost hand-held infrared sensors will become widely available, providing essential information to farmers, medical practitioners, and supermarket shoppers, in addition to the more traditional industry sectors such as mineral exploration and defence and security."