Nanotechnology continues to drive technological innovations that seemed impossible 20 or even 10 years ago. Two scientists at the University of Pennsylvania have developed an “optomechanical thermal infrared detector” that could eventually lead to more sensitive infrared cameras and chemical-analysis devices.

The research conducted by assistant professor Ertugrul Cubukcu and postdoctoral researcher Fei Yi, along with graduate students Hai Zhu and Jason C. Reed, yielded a way to turn infrared light into mechanical action using nanotechnology. According to the university, the optomechanical device could reduce the footprint of an infrared sensing device to that which would fit on a disposable silicon chip. The nanoscale structure pairs gold and silicon nitride and takes advantage of those materials’ differing thermal expansion coefficients. A fiber interferometer is used to measure the amount of movement and thereby the temperature.

While the device remains a proof-of-concept currently, the scientists plan to demonstrate the device’s capabilities as a means of analyzing proteins and gas molecules, according to the university. The research was published in Nano Lettersand can be purchased at http://bit.ly/ZrizQo.

Infrared temperature sensing also is the subject of “Temperature Sensing Demystified,” a technical article from the engineering staff at Omega Engineering Inc., Stamford, Conn., which can be found on page 19. Taking a question-and-answer format, the article describes some of the factors to consider when selecting among thermocouples, RTDs, thermistors and infrared devices for process temperature monitoring, and how to overcome electrical noise problems and their effect on process temperature reading accuracy.

Temperature sensing — and calibrating the devices used to sense, measure and manage temperature in processes — is the focus of “Securing Your Plant: Route-Based Automated Calibration and Documentation” by Jim Shields of Fluke Corp., Everett, Wash. In the article beginning on page 12, Shields makes the case for planned calibration and smart calibration tools.

 Perhaps someday the optomechanical thermal infrared detector — or more likely, devices built for production use based on the same nanoscale technology — will become an essential process tool. Until then, understanding and maintaining your process instrumentation will pay dividends.