Detecting aircraft fatigue

TanyaMonro_300x180The only way to find out whether the internal structures of an aircraft are corroded is to pull the plane apart and look. But new nanotechnology-based techniques being developed by Prof. Tanya Monro, Director of University of Adelaide’s Centre of Expertise in Photonics, in collaboration with the Defence Science and Technology Organisation, could make costly visual inspection in preventive aircraft maintenance a thing of the past.

Tanya and her colleagues are developing a sensor that uses unique optical fibres to pick up signs of corrosion in areas that are hard to access, such as joints. “Once the aircraft is assembled, we can inspect these areas by sending a light signal through the fibre and detecting the changes in characteristics of the light,” she says.

They have created a new class of optical fibre using soft glass. These optical fibres with minute holes have thousands of potential applications in industry, health, agriculture and defence.

Examples include polymer optical fibres with lines of tiny holes to guide terahertz radiation—low frequency waves on the electromagnetic spectrum—which may find application in high-speed computing, security scanners and medical imaging.

Another novel function is real-time pathology tests for diseases such as HIV or bird flu—the fibres will be coated with antibodies to specific diseases and will fluoresce if the virus is present.

Contributed by the National Enabling Technologies Program of the Department of Innovation.

For more information: Institute for Photonics & Advanced Sensing, Tanya Monro, Tel: +61 (8) 8303 3955, tanya.monro@adelaide.edu.au, www.physics.adelaide.edu.au/photonics

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