Powerless device senses magnetic fields


31-01-2008

A research team at the University of Cambridge has discovered that pre-existing industrially produced multilayer capacitors (MLCs) can be used to sense magnetic fields with no requirement for electrical power.

The February issue of the journal Nature Materials has included correspondence from the research team consisting of Dr Neil Mathur and Dr Casey Israel from the Department of Materials Science and Professor Jim Scott from the Department of Earth Sciences. In the paper the team states that the electrodes of the MLCs, previously based on silver and palladium, are now instead based on nickel. This cost-saving measure enabled breakthrough discovery, which has led to a patent filed by Cambridge Enterprise Limited, the commercialisation office of the University of Cambridge.
Dermot Leonard, a Technology Associate with Cambridge Enterprise, said “The global market in producing magnetic sensors is growing, for example in a few years' time consumers could see cars which utilise this technology to improve driver control and monitor passenger positions for tailored seat settings.”
These MLCs, though probably less sensitive than the best magnetic sensors, can operate at room-temperature, with manufacturing costs starting at one cent per device or less. The research team suggest that these factors could lead to a range of sensor applications including toys. As device operation requires no electrical power, the sensors could operate in unusual environments, such as in space, underwater and inside the human body. Indeed, the ability of the MLCs to generate electricity from a moving magnet could in itself lead to energy harvesting applications.
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