Novel Bio-inspired Aquatic Flow Sensors

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Virginia Tech


Inspired by the roles of hair cells in nature, this study aims to develop and characterize two new sets of novel flow sensors. One set of sensors developed and studied in this work are flow sensors fabricated using carbon nanomaterials. These sensors are made by embedding carbon nanotubes (CNT) and carbon nanohorns (CNH) into a polymeric substrate and then tested by flowing a conductive aqueous solution over the surface of the exposed CNT and CNH. In response, a flow-dependent voltage is generated. The surface coverage and the electrical relationship between the sensor and water is investigated and the voltage measurements of sensors with different levels of resistance were tested in varying fluid velocities. In response to these fluid velocities, the least resistive sensor showed small, but detectable changes in voltages, while higher resistance sensors showed less response. In addition, plasma treatment of the carbon nanomaterial/PDMS films were conducted in order to render the PDMS on the surface hydrophilic and in turn to pull more fluid towards the carbon material. This showed to improve the sensitivity of the flow sensors. This work also builds on previous research by investigating the flow dependent electrical response of a "skin"-encapsulated artificial hair cell in an aqueous flow. An artificial cell membrane is housed in a flexible polyurethane substrate and serves as the transduction element for the artificial hair cell. Flow experiments are conducted by placing the bio-inspired sensor in a flow chamber and subjecting it to pulse-like flows. This study demonstrates that the encapsulated artificial hair cell flow sensor is capable of sensing changes in flow through a mechanoelectrical response and that its sensing capabilities may be altered by varying its surface morphology. Furthermore, the sensor's response and dynamics as a function of its surface morphology and structural properties are investigated through synchronized motion tracking of the hair with a laser vibrometer and current measurements across the artificial cell membrane.



lipid bilayer, regulated attachment method (RAM), flow sensor, artificial hair cell, artificial cell membrane, carbon nanotubes, carbon nanohorns