Swinburne researchers exploring use of nanomaterials in sensors

A Swinburne University research team has been focussing its efforts on groundbreaking work on sensors and nanomaterials and their practical use for health and environmental monitoring.

The team is led by Dr Shafiei, a Swinburne Vice-Chancellor’s Women in STEM research fellow. These fellowships have been designed designed to address the under-representation of women in science, technology, engineering and maths research and teaching.

With funding support from the university’s Faculty of Science, Engineering and Technology and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), Shafiei has established a world-class sensor laboratory at Swinburne.

“Nanoscience, nanotechnology and sensing are powerful technologies that enable the development of integrated and portable sensor devices,” Shafiei said.

Together with collaborative networks at ANU and RMIT, she is investigating non-invasive medical diagnostics by breath analysis, thanks to an Australian Research Council Discovery Project.

“In our research, we are developing reliable, portable and inexpensive sensors to monitor important biomarkers in our breath that could enable early disease diagnosis and management,” she said.

“For example, in diabetics we can measure the concentration of acetone, a specific volatile organic compound (VOC) that is the biomarker for Type 1 diabetes. A high acetone reading is a warning sign that your diabetes isn’t under control.”

In 2017, Shafiei and her Swinburne colleagues with their industry partner were awarded a grant from the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science to develop a hydrocarbon liquid sensing system to be integrated into the Internet of Things (IoT) platform for continuous real-time environmental monitoring. The developed system has a potential use in the oil industry where leakage and spillage could contaminate soil and ground water.

International collaborations are an important part of sensor research and Dr Shafiei has developed strong links with other laboratories in Italy, Japan, Canada and Hong Kong.

With grant support from Swinburne’s School of Software and Electrical Engineering, she is collaborating with leaders in the field of nano-sensing at the International Center for Materials Nanoarchitectonics and the National Institute for Materials Science (NIMS) in Japan.

This work aims to integrate nanofibres developed by her PhD student with novel sensing platforms developed by the NIMS group for VOCs and humidity sensing.

More recently, Shafiei’s group has added a research project that aims to develop low-power, portable sensing systems to monitor hydrogen gas and VOCs as part of an ARENA project to produce hydrogen from renewable energy.

“The project will establish a pilot plant to test a range of new technologies in hydrogen production,” Shafiei said.

As well as Swinburne, the project involves QUT, Griffith University and the University of Tokyo, along with industry partners Sumitomo Electric industries (Japan) and Energy Developments Limited (Australia).

This year Shafiei and colleagues also established a new international collaboration with researchers at UNICAMP on two-dimensional nanomaterials for gas sensing applications.