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NSW Smart Sensing Network launched to develop portable, smart sensors for health, environment

The NSW Smart Sensing Network (NSSN), established through a collaboration between the New South Wales (NSW) Government, universities and industry, was officially launched on 1 February at the at the Australian Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology (AINST) headquarters, the $150m Sydney Nanoscience Hub.

It is intended to further research into small, smart devices to facilitate on-site measurements and remote tracking. Technologies developed will have applications in the areas of agriculture, health, security, environment and industry. Examples of the kind of smart technologies being explored include mobile phone-enabled air and water sensors to skin patches for monitoring sun exposure, audio recognition for tracking koala populations, making ion-mobility mass spectrometers (used in security screening at airports) and more portable.

The NSSN is led by co-directors Professor Benjamin Eggleton from the University of Sydney's School of Physics and a flagship head at AINST, and UNSW's Professor Justin Gooding from the School of Chemistry.

In September 2016, the NSW government announced an investment of $700,000 in NSSN, to bring together experts in chemistry, physics, nanotechnology and ICT to craft cutting-edge solutions. The two universities contributed $125,000 each, bringing total investment in the Network to $950,000. Key projects are classified into 5 areas: 1) Air sensing, 2) Wildlife, 3) Biomedical, 4) Wearables and 5) Water quality.

For instance in the field of air sensing, NSSN is exploring technologies that will enable air quality monitoring more cheaply, frequently and over smaller distances than previously possible. NSSN is looking into optical (light based) sensors that allow extremely high speed measurement of air quality data. Low-cost particle sensors used in high-volume can help in monitoring the distribution and spread of pollution sources such as tunnel vents and diesel powered coal trains.

Currently, official monitoring stations for particle size and gas readings consist of large shipping containers full of complex equipment. NSS is also developing integrated photonics through the miniaturisation of optical technologies down to the nanoscale. This can reduce the large complex devices down to an optical chip, which could lead to smart-phone sized measuring devices.

In wearables, NSSN is working on the development of miniature sensors that can be attached to the body or can be part of clothing items. These can enable remote monitoring of daily activity of a person or patient over extended periods. Wearable technology can allows clinicians to collect data for monitoring after clinical treatment.

One project mentioned on the NSSN website focuses on developing low cost optical fiber sensors, which could be integrated into the existing fabric of garments for monitoring the activity of different parts of human body.    ​ Another development is regarding sun sensitive strips that can provide early warnings of excessive exposure to ultra-violet (UV) radiation. The strips are calibrated to simulate the varied UV exposure times of different skin types. They are made of benign materials, such as food dye and can be made through ink-jet printing. These simple paper-based sensors can decrease high rate of skin cancer in Australia, by stopping people, especially kids, from getting sunburned frequently.

Read the press release from the University of Sydney here.

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