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USQ Researcher Develops Sensors to Boost Mining Safety

A researcher at the University of Queensland has designed sensors to help prevent injury and death on mining sites by detecting early mechanical issues in oil and gas pipelines. The sensors’ extraordinary ability to withstand harsh and corrosive environments has even caught the attention of NASA.

Dr Dinh, a mechanical engineer at the University of Southern Queensland, has spent the past six years developing the sensors, which are made of silicon carbide. He said they are five to 100 times smaller than the width of a single human hair and perform a thousand times better than conventional sensors.

He noted that the current silicon technology can’t be used in harsh environments because it can’t survive a long time in conditions of high temperature and corrosion. The sensors he has developed can operate in up to 600 degrees Celsius for a wide range of applications, including oil and gas industries and aerospace technologies.

Oil and gas exploration and production sites are some of the most dangerous workplaces on the planet due to the risk of fires and explosions. It is critically important that working conditions are made safer for miners as well as more efficient, Dr Dinh said. He noted that the sensors can detect and measure the tiniest of movements in the environment, as well as monitor, in real-time, the structural health of a system, such as a pipeline, in case there is any changes or faults. This can help prevent a major system failure from occurring, not only reducing maintenance costs but potentially averting a catastrophic situation that could lead to injury or death.

Dr Dinh recently received a $440,675 grant under the Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Early Career Researcher Award scheme to further develop his research. It will also enable him to travel to California where he will collaborate with researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to look at how the sensors could be used in space exploration. “It’s a very exciting opportunity and a great chance to focus on improving the technology’s performance so it can operate in more environments and applications,” Dr Dinh said.

His goal is to start testing the sensors in real industry conditions as early as this year before they are ready for commercialisation. The ARC Discovery Early Career Researcher Award scheme provides more focused support for researchers and creates more opportunities for early-career researchers in both teaching and research, and research-only positions in Australia.

The Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) scheme is a separate element of the Discovery Program. The DECRA scheme provides focused research support for early career researchers in both teaching and research and research-only positions.

It is anticipated that up to 200 three-year Discovery Early Career Researcher Awards, including up to $50,000 per annum in project funds, may be awarded each year. Project funding may be used for: personnel, postdoctoral research associates and research assistants, technicians and laboratory attendants; access to research and infrastructure facilities and technical workshop services; essential field research; expert third party services; equipment and consumables; publication and dissemination of project research outputs and outreach activities; specialised computer equipment and software; travel costs essential to the project for up to $50,000 over the project activity period; web hosting and development; workshops, focus groups and conferences; and reasonable essential costs for researchers who are carers or whom themselves require care.

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SIRIM is a premier industrial research and technology organisation in Malaysia, wholly-owned by the Minister​ of Finance Incorporated. With over forty years of experience and expertise, SIRIM is mandated as the machinery for research and technology development, and the national champion of quality. SIRIM has always played a major role in the development of the country’s private sector. By tapping into our expertise and knowledge base, we focus on developing new technologies and improvements in the manufacturing, technology and services sectors. We nurture Small Medium Enterprises (SME) growth with solutions for technology penetration and upgrading, making it an ideal technology partner for SMEs.

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