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New marine sensors to be a world first

Innovative sensor technologies which will enable major advances in the understanding of marine ecosystems are being developed by researchers at the University of Southampton.

Professor Hywel Morgan (School of Electronics & Computer Science (ECS)) and Dr Matt Mowlem (National Oceanography Centre, Southampton (NOCS)) and colleagues from across the University have received a grant of £1.75M from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) to continue their work in developing sensors to measure marine environments.

They are to develop Laboratory on a Chip (LOAC) Technology and fabricate a new generation of integrated micro-devices and sensors capable of operating in harsh environments, without bulky, expensive and power hungry support systems.

According to Professor Morgan, marine environmental sensing has reached a bottle-neck where further advances in knowledge and understanding of ecosystems can only be obtained if a new generation of sensors is brought into being.

The proposal has two strands: to develop lab-on-a-chip chemical and biochemical analyser to detect nutrients and pollutants at the ultra low concentrations found in the ocean, and to develop small chips to identify individual phytoplankton in the oceans. The sensing packages will be deployed by strapping them to vehicles including profiling (ARGO) floats that already give detailed information on the temperature and salinity of the oceans.

The development of these biogeochemical sensors over the next four years will provide a new technology platform for marine scientists and have applications for many allied activities such as those undertaken by the water industry, in environmental impact assessments and in monitoring ship ballast water.

‘We believe that the co-ordinated development of microfabricated devices across this broad front in marine sensing will be a world first,’ said Professor Morgan.

Joyce Lewis | alfa
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