New sensor for measuring electric field strength

  • Researchers have developed a silicon-based sensor as a microelectromechanical system (MEMS), small, grid-shaped silicon structures measuring just a few micrometres in size are fixed onto a small spring.
  • This sensor has the major advantage that it does not distort the very electric field it is currently measuring.
  • The equipment currently used to measure electric field strength has some significant downsides.
  • These devices contain parts that become electrically charged. Conductive metallic components can significantly alter the field being measured; an effect that becomes even more pronounced if the device also has to be grounded to provide a reference point for the measurement.
  • When the silicon is exposed to an electric field, a force is exerted on the silicon crystals, causing the spring to slightly compress or extend.
  • These tiny movements now need to be made visible, for which an optical solution has been designed: an additional grid located above the movable silicon grid is lined up so precisely that the grid openings on one grid are concealed by the other.
  • When an electric field is present, the movable structure moves slightly out of perfect alignment with the fixed grid, allowing light to pass through the openings.
  • This light is measured, from which the strength of the electric field can be calculated by an appropriately calibrated device.
  • The new silicon sensor does not measure the direction of the electric field, but its strength.
  • It can be used for fields of a relatively low frequency of up to one kilohertz also measure weak fields of less than 200 volts per metre.
  • This means this system is already performing at roughly the same level as existing products, even though it is significantly smaller and much simpler.

APPLICATION:

Accurately measuring electric fields is important in a variety of applications, such as weather forecasting, process control on industrial machinery, or ensuring the safety of people working on high-voltage power lines.

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