According to Jerry Workman, chair of new ASTM International Subcommittee E13.16 on Chemical Sensors, one place to begin to understand the current and future importance of chemical sensors is the classic television show, Star Trek.
“Mr. Spock, the science officer on the Starship Enterprise, routinely used his Tricorder to make measurements of atmospheric gases, soil samples, living tissue and just about anything else that crossed his path, including alien life forms,” says Workman, who notes that the information Spock received saved the lives of crew members of the Enterprise but, generally speaking, not the lives of guest stars.
Today, chemical sensors are closer to the realm of science fact than science fiction. “Scientific innovations are advancing at increasingly rapid rates and this is true for sensors,” says Workman, who is chair of the new subcommittee. “Sensors will become smaller, more feature-laden, battery powered and easier to use. Sensor systems will provide convenience, intelligence and, most importantly, real-time information when and where it is most needed to make critical decisions affecting life, property, the environment and global economics.”
Sensors are having an ever-widening impact on everyday life, in the products people use on a daily basis, air and water quality, and in the detection of hazardous chemical, biological or radioactive substances. In addition, more sophisticated manufacturing for materials, pharmaceuticals, foods and fuels is becoming increasingly reliant on sensors for everyday production, processing and quality assessment.
The standards that will be developed by E13.16 will be used by manufacturers and developers of individual sensor components, integrators of these components into sensing systems, technical applications personnel who use the components, and regulatory bodies and government organizations relying on the output of sensors for gleaning information suitable for critical decision making.
Workman says that the main challenge that has been created by the rapid advances in sensor technology is the need for standardized terminology, data formats, and methods for testing, evaluating, data processing and interpreting. Task groups that have been formed within the subcommittee will be tackling a variety of sensor-related subjects, including miniature molecular spectroscopy, microfluidics, micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS), nano- and microfabrication of sensors, optical fiber-based photonic sensors, array technology and specialized data processing for such sensor systems.
Subcommittee E13.16 is under the jurisdiction of ASTM International Committee E13 on Molecular Spectroscopy and Separation Science. “We are just getting started and are interested in hearing from any individuals or organizations that would like to participate in the charter activities of establishing guidelines, purposes and working agendas for the subcommittee activities,” says Workman. “This is an opportunity to network with other leaders in the field to produce truly valuable practices and methods for sensor developments with the potential for a high positive impact on today’s society.”
For further technical information, contact Jerry Workman, Thermo Electron Corporation, Madison, Wis. (phone: 608/276-5626; firstname.lastname@example.org). Committee E13 meets Nov. 12-14, in conjunction with the Eastern Analytical Symposium in Somerset, N.J. For membership or meeting information, contact Joe Koury, manager, Technical Committee Operations, ASTM International (phone: 610/832-9804; email@example.com).