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Electronic sensors exist in many facets of our lives, from measuring operating conditions of our vehicles to adjusting the temperature of our homes. They can even mean the difference between life and death when used to monitor patients in emergency rooms. Even though sensors work transparently in their multitude of functions, their importance cannot be understated.

Sensorland (1) has basic descriptions of a wide variety of sensors and related concepts. Out of the 50 items in the list, some have full technical reports that explain physical processes, while others consist of succinct explanations of a device's operation. The site covers sensors that measure everything from atmospheric pressure to the pH value of liquid solutions. In September 2002, the US Army conducted exercises using the zNose, a sensor that can quickly and quantitatively analyze any smell or vapor. This paper (2) provides a complete technical description of the zNose. Several more documents, including the press release of the Army's use of the device, can be found on the Electronic Sensor Technology homepage. In a related story from Sandia National Laboratories, the SnifferSTAR (3) could be especially useful in case of a terrorist gas attack. The short article briefly discusses how the invention works, with an emphasis on its characteristics of low power consumption and rapid analysis. Environmental Research Aircraft and Sensor Technology (4) is a NASA program to develop unmanned aerial vehicles capable of conducting advanced scientific studies. A number of aircraft are highlighted on the program's Web site, many of which are designed for long-term flights or potentially dangerous missions. The February 2003 cover story of Sensors magazine (5) is inertial sensing technology made from microelectromechanical systems (MEMS). The article discusses the applications of MEMS in accelerometers and gyroscopes, as well as explaining some of the theory behind these devices. A streaming video presentation, given in May 2002, can be viewed from this site (6). The hour-long talk introduces Sensor Webs, a network of tiny sensors connected by wireless technology that can be scattered over a large area to gather scientific data. Sensors can even be used in performing arts, as is shown in this paper from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab (7). The authors propose using motion sensors to monitor hundreds of performers simultaneously, thereby allowing for much improved lighting and music responses. In the wake of the Space Shuttle Columbia tragedy, a great deal of attention was given to the intermittent and failing sensors on the shuttle minutes before it broke apart. This document from NASA shows the status of several sensors at various intervals in the shuttle's decent (8).

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Date Issued 2003
Scout Publication
Date of Scout Publication 2003-02-28
Archived Scout Publication URL

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