Recent researches show that zinc oxide, material typically used in paint, glass and ceramics, may be manipulated to produce a UV-light sensor that is ultra-sensitive, improving applications in smoke, gas and fire detection. Researchers from the University of Surrey manipulated zinc oxide to create nanowires capable of UV-light detection and are 10,000 times more sensitive than the usual detectors made of zinc oxide. Current photoelectric smoke detectors sense larger particles in denser smoke but can’t detect smaller particles typical in rapid-burning fires.Due to their potential applications for a wide range of devices such as laser diodes, light-emitting diodes, piezoelectric transducers and generators, gas sensors, and ultraviolet (UV) detectors, Zinc oxide (ZnO) nanostructures have been the centre of extensive studies for a while. UV detectors finds its application in commercial and military applications which includes pollution monitoring, secure space communications, water purification, flame and missile plume detection, etc.
“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,” said study co-author professor Ravi Silva from the University of Surrey in Britain. “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,” Silva said.
Researchers believe that this new material could increase sensitivity and allow the sensor to detect distinct particles emitted at the early stages of fires, paving the way for specialist sensors that can be deployed in a number of applications. The team also predict that the applications for this material could be far reaching. From fire and gas detection to air pollution monitoring, they believe the sensor could also be incorporated into personal electronic devices, such as phones and tablets, to increase speed, with a response time 1000 times faster than traditional zinc oxide detectors
“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,” added Professor Silva.
ZnO nanostructures have high photo response because of the increase in the surface-to-volume ratio and the active area reduced dimensionality. This work paves the way toward low cost, large scale, low temperature, seedless and site-selective fabrication of high performance ZnO nanowire sensors on flexible and transparent substrates.
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