Professor Yehea Ismail, director of the Center for Nanoelectronics and Devices at The American University in Cairo (AUC) and the Zewail City of Science and Technology is leading a team to develop a chip that would harvest solar energy in order to power wireless sensor networks. Wireless sensor networks, made up of nodes that read information and transmit data wirelessly to a central computer, have numerous potential uses, including non-invasive diabetes monitoring, home security systems and energy-saving smart homes, but their use is limited by reliance on batteries.
wireless sensor networks are also utilized in the design of “smart buildings,” where lights or air conditioning turn on and off depending on time of day, temperature or whether a room is inhabited.
In order to keep wireless sensor networks functioning and expand their potential uses, researchers are turning to renewable energy sources such as sound, solar and thermal waves. “Sensory chips could be developed and placed on very small nodes to harvest solar energy, or tiny antenna could pick up sound waves,” explained Ismail. “These sources could then be converted into the electrical energy needed to run the network nodes.”
Ismail’s team has been tasked with developing a chip to harvest solar energy, which scientists at Khalifa University of Science, Technology and Research in Abu Dhabi will then use to develop a glucose monitoring device that could be implanted into diabetes patients. It would be minimally invasive, with tiny sensors that would be undetectable by the patient, and it could run for a lifetime without any need to change batteries. The idea behind the technology, noted Ismail, is “set it and forget it.”
Relying on renewable sources of energy would also mean using less power in wireless sensor networks, as the energy-harvesting sensors would operate based on the data the node is receiving in a sprinkler system for example, Ismail explained that if the nodes sense that there is enough moisture, they could go into standby mode, but even though they are on standby, they would continue harvesting solar energy for use when there is a change in activity and data needs to be sent to the central computer. “
The Semiconductor Research Corporation (SRC) is a consortium of key companies in the semiconductor industry. The grant received by the Center for Nanoelectronic Devices (CND) is highly competitive and very rare as the SRC does not usually fund research outside of the United States. The CND was founded in 2012 as a joint research center between AUC and Zeweil city with the purpose of using nanotechnology to develop advanced electronic devices and microscopic sensors that can be widely used in a variety of industries, and could improve quality of life in Egypt and the Arab region.