Optic fibres can detect rust and bugs


AIRCRAFT with built-in corrosion detectors and water reservoirs that sense dangerous bugs could be possible thanks to optical fibres developed by Australian scientists.
University of Adelaide researchers are working on training light along tiny "nano-rail" fibres threaded through liquids, structures or other mediums as detectors.
Such technology embedded in "smart structures" could be used to find corrosion in aircraft, ships or bridges or detect harmful bacteria in water supplies.
Professor Tanya Monro says the light in the nano-rails is not contained as in standard optical fibres but is guided and can interact with surroundings to reveal their secrets.
A breakthrough, presented by PhD student Roman Kostecki at the Australian Institute of Physics conference in Sydney on Wednesday, was an optic fibre made of silica, sturdy enough for use outside the lab.
"We can start to apply them to real world problems," Prof Monro told AAP.
She says such fibres could be coated with chemicals that respond when the light comes into contact with a range of chemical or biological markers.
Aircraft, for example, could contain these fibres so lasers could be fired along them to detect aluminium ions as an indicator of corrosion.
"At the moment you have to routinely pull the plane apart to visually inspect it for corrosion, so there's a lot of lost flight time and costs," Prof Monro said.
Water reservoirs could also have optic fibres spread through them to detect dangerous bacteria such as E-coli or Giardia.
This could be possible within the next few years but the more ambitious application in planes could take a decade, Prof Monro said.
The university is working with the Defence Science and Technology Organisation on the research.

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