Frostburg State and Johns Hopkins Faculty Collaborate on Vapor Sensor Technology

Nov 6, 2018 2:20 PM

Vapor sensors are critical for modern life, monitoring industrial processes, ensuring air quality, detecting security threats and even aiding in medical diagnostics. One emerging technology offers great promise for cheaper, more versatile vapor sensors: organic semiconductors (OSC). Unfortunately, OSC vapor sensors are not quite ready for widespread use.

Dr. Wudyalew Wondmagegn, associate professor of electrical engineering at Frostburg State University, and Dr. Howard Katz, professor of materials science and engineering at Johns Hopkins University, are combining their expertise to improve OSC vapor sensor tech. Their collaborative inter-university research project is supported by a three-year $438,463 grant from the National Science Foundation, approximately $160,000 of which will fund research at FSU.

“Dr. Katz’s team, they have done a lot in this specific area," said Wondmagegn. "I am kind of new in terms of these sensors right now, but I have been working on organic transistors for a long time. My research background is organic semiconductors … designing transistors for flexible displays and diodes.”

OSCs are small, simple inexpensive to produce and as mechanically flexible as plastic. However, environmental factors like heat, humidity and other gases can degrade the current OSC vapor sensors in as little as a few hours, causing readings to drift. That drift renders them unreliable in most real-world situations.

Wondmagegn and Katz are developing strategies to overcome or counteract those drifting outputs.

"We will be trying to achieve devices and circuits that detect gases with much better performance than we have now,” Wondmagegn said. “That’s the goal: to advance the current technology to a new level.”

The two teams will test changes to the materials and design of individual OSC vapor sensors to optimize performance, collaborating regularly to refine their improvements.  

At FSU, Wondmagegn’s students will deploy computer models to simulate those sensors in service. Wondmagegn and his team will then design circuits of sensors to preserve sensitivity while minimizing output drift.

At JHU, Katz’s team will physically produce various OSC sensor designs and collect experimental data on actual sensor performance over time.

The research project will also include STEM outreach efforts to high school students, both in Western Maryland and in Baltimore.

For more information, contact Wondmagegn at wwondmagegn@frostburg.edu.

Situated in the mountains of Allegany County, Frostburg State University is one of the 12 institutions of the University System of Maryland. FSU is a comprehensive, residential regional university and serves as an educational and cultural center for Western Maryland. For more information, visit www.frostburg.edu or facebook.com/frostburgstateuniversity. Follow FSU on Twitter @frostburgstate.