Sensors and Sustainability

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Published Oct 18, 2021
Thomas G. Thundat


Our society is in the early stages of transitioning from dependence on fossil fuel to sustainable resources for its functioning. Real-time monitoring with miniature, low-cost sensors and sensor networks, can play critical roles in these efforts for optimization and intervention; for example, all aspects of energy efficiency, resource management, enhanced quality of life, and environmental health, etc. However, currently most sensing for sustainability is based on physical sensors. Next-generation sensors, that incorporate chemical and biological detection with molecular selectivity, will have a transforming effect in sustainability efforts. Imagine a world where we have ubiquitously placed next-generation sensors that are highly selective, have a very-high sensitivity and can monitor a whole range of physical, chemical, and biological parameters and analytes as a function of time and space; then couple these distributed sensors via a “wireless” cyber-physical-network, that is wireless both in how the sensors are powered and how the sensors communicate to a central command. In such a world, variations in the presence of chemicals and their temporal variations could be detected on a fine scale over a large area to identify the source of contamination. The time dependent physical and chemical data from the sensors could be used to measure phenomena, and their data can be used to make predictions of phenomena and also send signals to affect some action to distributed devices. Monitoring carried out at different scales, ranging from individuals to infrastructures and even on a much larger scale, transforming cities of today into future smart cities, optimally. Efforts are presently underway in order to realize these goals, by the development and fabrication of next-generation, highly-selective, low-cost sensors that can sense a wide range of physical and chemical variables with high sensitivity; in the wireless transmission of power that can power a large network of sensors and devices; cyber-physical networks that are coupled to a cloud that can communicate with the sensor and device network; and development of new transformative technologies that enable fabrication of low-cost, high-performance devices that can take action based on signals received from the cyber-physical network. Monitoring and renewing environment and infrastructure will improve the quality of life, create economic opportunities, and address healthcare. Predictive analytics will make infrastructure improvements and healthcare more deterministic with "early warnings" for interventions. It will have a profound impact on enhancing the quality of life, optimal management of resources, and protection of the environment. I will discuss various multi-modal, multi-physics detection techniques for miniature sensors, as well as delivering electrical power and communication signals to a multitude of devices without using conventional techniques.

How to Cite

Thomas G. Thundat. (2021). Sensors and Sustainability . SPAST Abstracts, 1(01). Retrieved from
Abstract 30 |

Article Details

A01: Plenary