Ultrasensitive UV detector for early fire warning

Researchers at Surrey University’s Advanced Technology Institute have created a ultra-violet light detector that is 10,000 times more sensitive to UV light than a traditional zinc oxide detector, paving the way for improved fire and gas detection.

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 ATI team manipulated zinc oxide to transform it from a flat film to a structure with bristle-like nanowires. This increased the sensor’s surface area and so its sensitivity and reaction speed,  allowing the sensor to detect distinct particles emitted at the early stages of fires.

As well as fire and gas detection and air pollution monitoring, the team believes the sensor could also be incorporated into personal electronic devices, such as phones and tablets, to increase the speed they can interpret inputs.

‘We grew the zinc oxide nanowires and nano-syringes directly on the electrodes of the device. The beauty of the system we have developed is that the growth can be done in-situ, at low temperatures, and even on plastic substrates for flexible and maybe even transparent devices,’ said Prof Ravi Silva, co-author of the study and head of the Advanced Technology Institute.

‘We are in the midst of talking to interested parties in a number of fields to engage with the many different forms of designer nanomaterials we can produce in a manufacturable manner. By mixing these with organic materials, it opens to door for bespoke solid state flexible and large area devices that can be used in UV detectors, X-ray detectors, solar cells, lighting devices, transparent conductors, touch panels and so on.’