Newcastle University develops volcano device

A DEVICE that can be dropped into a volcano to provide early warning of eruptions is being pioneered by experts at Newcastle University.

A DEVICE that can be dropped into a volcano to provide early warning of eruptions is being pioneered by experts at Newcastle University.

The university’s Centre for Extreme Environment Technology has developed a radio transmitter that can handle temperatures of up to 900C, equivalent to the inside of a jet engine.

It uses electronics made of silicon carbide, which is more stable than silicon and has a high tolerance to radiation.

And it is hoped the new technology will be deployed to measure subtle changes in levels of volcanic gases such as carbon dioxide and sulphur dioxide to provide real-time data on activity and the threat of eruption.

Dr Alton Horsfall, who leads the silicon carbide work alongside Prof Nick Wright, said: “At the moment we have no way of accurately monitoring the situation inside a volcano and in fact most data collection actually goes on post-eruption.

“With an estimated 500 million people living in the shadow of a volcano this is clearly not ideal.

“We still have some way to go but using silicon carbide technology we hope to develop a wireless communication system that could accurately collect and transmit chemical data from the very depths of a volcano.”

Newcastle University set up the Centre for Extreme Environment Technology after sealing a £2.1m contract with One North East and in the intervening years has developed a worldwide reputation for the development of components that can handle some of the globe’s most unforgiving environments.

The development was just one of the innovations showcased at the university’s Extreme Technologies event last week.

And the technology has applications in fields such as defence, oil and gas, subsea, shipping, building automation and medical radiotherapy.

Prof Nick Wright, pro-vice chancellor for innovation and research at Newcastle University, said: “The situations we are planning to use our technology in means it’s not enough for the electronics to simply withstand extremes of temperature, pressure or radiation – they have to continue operating absolutely accurately and reliably.

“Increasingly mankind is spreading out into harsher and more extreme environments as our population grows and we explore new areas for possible sources of energy. But with this comes new challenges and this is why research into extreme technologies is becoming ever more important.”

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