Sustainable Piezoresistive Strain Sensors and Multiplexed Arrays for Transportation Infrastructures in Extreme Environments

The objective of the proposed research is to develop printed silicon sensor arrays for health monitoring of transportation infrastructures. The sensors currently used, such as the strain sensors, have the following drawbacks; 1) Each sensor covers only a point (or a very small area), and therefore cannot get the distribution (of strain, …) in space; 2) Multiple sensors are necessary for determining the distribution (of strain, …) in space, but it is very time consuming to install multiple sensors; and 3) The sensors are developed for relatively flat area, and not applicable to curvilinear regions or sharp corners, which usually have stress or strain concentrations. In order to overcome the above drawbacks, the project proposes to use our advanced fabrication techniques for stretchable and flexible electronics to develop printed Si arrays of strain sensor and temperature sensor, and to generate differential amplifier using printed Si for signal processing of sensor arrays. The sensor arrays enable the determination of the distribution (of strain) over a large area via one measurement. The stretchability and flexibility of sensor arrays allow them to be wrapped around arbitrarily curvilinear surfaces of transportation infrastructures. This aids the accurate damage assessment of transportation infrastructures (e.g., bridges, highways), and to the prediction of their service life. This is important to the highway structures portion of National Strategy of Surface Transportation Research identified by the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) research goals. The sensor arrays will be delivered. Realization of electronics with performance equal to established technologies that use rigid semiconductor wafers, but in lightweight, foldable and stretchable formats  enables many new applications. The principal investigator (PI), Huang has developed stretchable and foldable electronics that can be stretched like a rubber band, twisted like a rope, and bent around small objects (e.g., a pencil). This research, published in Science [1-4] and its series [5], Nature [6] (cover issue) and its series [7-10], and PNAS [11-13], has been selected as one of "Ten Technologies That Will Change the World" by MIT Technology Review. It has been widely reported by media (e.g., ABC, BBC, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, Daily Telegraph (UK), Discover Magazine, MIT Technology Review, MSNBC, Newsweek, Reuters, Scientific American, United Press International, US News & World Report), and has been displayed in an interactive exhibit at The Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose, California, as well in at The Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, Illinois. Limitations of the Existing Technologies Each strain sensor, as well as other sensors, only covers a point (or a very small area) on the surface of transportation infrastructures. It cannot provide the distribution of strain (or other variables) in space. One alternative is to install multiple sensors on the surface, but this is not only limited in the space resolution (sensors cannot be too close), but also time consuming. Furthermore, the sensors are developed for relatively flat surfaces, and not suitable for curvilinear surfaces with sharp corners, which usually have stress or strain concentrations and require accurate sensing. From the material point of view, the current flexible strain sensor all have low gauge factor (i.e., low sensitivity to strain).