DARPA Develops Tiny Helpers To Spot Bioterror Attacks


Elena Malykhina
Information Week
June 15, 2013

The government might soon have at its disposal highly sensitive gas analyzers that can detect chemical or biological attacks, atomic clocks the size of chips, and micro-vacuum tubes. A group of researchers funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) recently developed a new class of powerful, tiny vacuum pumps that could be used in national security applications for electronics and sensors that require a vacuum.

Researchers at the University of Michigan, Honeywell International, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) were able to demonstrate how ultra-high-performance vacuum micropumps work, as part of DARPA’s Chip-Scale Vacuum Micro Pumps (CSVMP) program. The purpose of the program — launched in 2008 — was to develop a system that’s less than 0.5 cubic centimeters in size, excluding power source, plumbing and control circuitry.

University of Michigan researchers created three different pumps, ranging from lowest to highest pressure. The team at MIT developed three types of microscale pumps. One such pump has curved surfaces that displace large volumes of gas. Another pump, developed by Honeywell International, is a turbomolecular pump that operates in the mid-vacuum and high-vacuum range. The pump design is similar to a turbine, but in reverse, so its blades are angled and push gas outward as they spin.

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