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Nanotech can tell you when it’s time to change your car’s oil

Technologists have created a real-time sensor that can measure engine oil quality. The device, harnessing nanotechnology, makes uses of thin metal oxide films. The idea is that it will let car users know when the engine oil needs to change.

The device takes the form of a disc-shaped sensor. The device is 2.5 milmeters in diameter and it is covered by a wafer-thin, 300-nanometer metal oxide film. This is very tiny indeed, around 500 times thinner than a human hair.

When the device is placed into engine oil, acidic oil droplets will change the electrical charge across the film. A change in charge above a threshold level indicates that the oil is starting to degrade and should be replaced. The technology, described as photolithography. Photolithography, is a technique, based on “microfabrication,” in order to create patterns on thin sections of film. It involves the use of chemicals to create etches or patterns.

Knowing when to change oil is important because engine oil degrades over time due to chemical oxidation. Oil is used for lubrication of internal combustion engines, and most are composed of hydrocarbons. Poor quality oil leads to corrosion, due to a rise in acidity, and the degradation affects engine performance. Furthermore, oil must also have sufficient viscosity to act as a good lubricant; degradation can affect the form of the oil, leading to it not working as well.

The study was carried out at Edith Cowan University, Australia in the Electron Science Research Institute. The technologists behind the project think that the devices can be produced on a mass scale and at a low cost. The cost is lower because the required film sections are very thin. findings have been published in the journal Physical Review Letters. The research paper is titled “Extraordinarily Large Optical Cross Section for Localized Single Nanoresonator.”

Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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