Southwest Sciences Inc News
May 2018

Measuring the Particle Size Distribution and Concentration of Martian Dust (NASA)

In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) involves collecting and converting local resources into products that can be used to reduce mission mass, cost, and/or risk of human exploration. NASA needs a dust sensor to measure 0.1 to 5 micron sized dust particles in the Mars atmosphere for future missions that will use ISRU techniques. Southwest Sciences will demonstrate an optical particle measurement technology that is based on a variant of laser intensity attenuation.  The method is compact, low power, can be multiplexed to increase throughput and/or dynamic range, uses no consumable, and is independent of carrier gas, gas temperature and gas pressure. (Contact: Tony Gomez)

Measuring Radio Wave Amplitudes

Radio frequency communications and sensors are everywhere in both personal and military life. RF fields are also used in some medical therapies. However, little is known about the medical effects that result from the routine exposure of tissue to RF fields. To understand such effects, new instrumentation is needed that can quantify the RF radiation amplitude with spatial resolution comparable to the size of biological structures such as cells. Southwest Sciences is partnering with UC Berkeley to investigate a method of quantifying the amplitude of radio frequency fields in biological samples. Our approach is based on measuring resonance signals from nitrogen-vacancy-doped diamonds. The design uses only materials that are electrically and biologically inert, and the mass of the material is kept small. Initially the research will show the range of fields over which quantitative results can be obtained. (Contact: Chris Hovde)

Fiber temperature sensor

Superconducting magnets are used to manipulate particles in high energy physics. The windings of superconducting magnets must be monitored to ensure that temperature does not rise above the superconducting transition. Such a “quenching” accident caused $10M damage and shut down the large hadron collider at CERN for a year. A method for monitoring temperature that is immune to electrical noise is needed. Nitrogen vacancy (NV) or silicon vacancy (SiV) diamonds offer a way to monitor temperature optically. Southwest Sciences will partner with UC Berkeley to investigate spectroscopic techniques for measuring the sublevel population in both NV and SiV to determine temperature. Our vision is a fiberized design that allows the probe to be integrated with superconducting coils. (Contact: Chris Hovde)

Miniature Magnetometer for Europa

Missions to Europa will seek to confirm that moon’s underground sea by measuring Europa’s effect on Jupiter’s magnetic field.   Meeting this science goal requires a very stable magnetometer. The helium vector-scalar magnetometer is a mature technology for this requirement, but recent work has shown that alkali vapor magnetometers can provide the needed stability with better SWAP. Southwest Sciences is investigating a magnetometer is based on atomic alignment, which has high sensitivity and inherently less heading error. Also proposed is a way to operate the magnetometer that allows it to provide both vector and scalar information. We will also test the radiation hardness of the vapor cell and polarization optics. (Contact: Chris Hovde)

April 2018

Compact CO2 measurement system (NASA)

Over the past decade, the importance of understanding the sources and sinks of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases has been recognized. Flux measurements of CO2 in the boundary layer help determine the carbon budget for this important greenhouse gas. The World Meteorological Organization has met its goal of 0.1 ppm CO2 accuracy for land based field sensors with gas chromatography and nondispersive infrared instruments. This project directly addresses the need for instruments that feature both high accuracy and a compact form factor for making measurements from unmanned aircraft or balloons.

To address this instrumentation need, Southwest Sciences has  developed a compact (< 1 L), low power (< 2 watts), light weight (<1kg) diode laser based instrument to measure dry air corrected CO2 concentrations with a drift accuracy of <1 ppm at >1 hr and short term precision of 0.2 ppm at 1 second under static conditions. Over a 300 torr pressure range, 12°C temperature range, and 1.6% water addition, the system  successfully measured within a standard deviationof 0.7, 0.8 and 0.4 ppm respectively of the actual concentration. (Contact: Tony Gomez)

July 2017

Wind Tunnel Characterization

Advances in computational capabilities for modeling the performance of advanced flight vehicles depend on verification measurements made in ground-based wind tunnels. As part of this process, the wind tunnels themselves must be well-calibrated and characterized. In particular to this project, the density, pressure and multi-component velocity of the air flow are of key interest. Southwest Sciences, in collaboration with the Southwest Research Institute, proposes to develop a novel, non-intrusive, laser-based measurement system for characterizing and calibrating the flow conditions upstream and downstream of test articles in wind tunnels. It uses inexpensive visible diode lasers and could be configured to match the needs of any particular type of wind tunnel, ranging from subsonic to hypersonic. The Phase I research will concentrate on developing and demonstrating the basic methodology of the system over a modest range of conditions. In Phase II we would expand the operation to the full range of expected conditions and verify the performance of the system in NASA-provided wind tunnels. (contact: Joel Silver).

July 2016

Detecting contaminants at fuel cell filling stations

Low concentrations of contaminants in hydrogen fuel can foul or damage fuel cells in hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, yet there is little monitoring of hydrogen quality at filling stations due to lack of suitable instrumentation. Southwest Sciences is developing a portable diode laser sensor. We have already demonstrated fast measurement of carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and methane in hydrogen, and we are working to expand the suite of measurements to include ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, water vapor, hydrogen chloride, formaldehyde, and formic acid. (Contact: Mark Paige).

Fast response nitrogen sensor for atmospheric science

Recent research has suggested that the commonly used assumption of dry air having no net flux is erroneous and can lead to significant errors in reported observations for eddy correlation flux measurements (Gu, L.; Massman, W. J.; Leuning, R.; Pallardy, S. G.; Meyers, T. P.; Hanson, P. J.; Riggs, J. S.; Hosman, K. P.; Yang, B., The fundamental equation of eddy covariance and its application in flux measurements. Agriculture and Forest Meteorology 2012, 152, 135-148). By directly measuring the density of nitrogen, the accuracy of flux measurements can be improved greatly (Gu, L., An eddy covariance theory of using O2 to CO2 exchange ratio to constrain measurements of net ecosystem exchange of any gas species. Agricultural and Forest Meteorology 2013, 176, 104-110). Southwest Sciences, Inc. is developing a portable analyzer to be used in conjunction with sonic anemometers to improve the performance of eddy covariance flux measurements. This instrument uses a new optical method to detect ambient nitrogen gas density with good precision and fast time response. Proof-of-concept research demonstrated that required performance specifications could be achieved. A prototype instrument under development will be constructed, characterized and tested in the field.(contact: Joel Silver)

July 2014

Monitoring from aerial platforms

NASA recently awarded three SBIR Phase I contracts to Southwest Sciences for the development of tunable diode laser gas spectrometers suitable for use on aerial platforms. Two of these projects are in support of NASA's atmospheric science programs, while the third is for planetary exploration. The first targets high accuracy measurements of  CO2 using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) which will bridge the gap between current land based and satellite platforms (Contact: Tony Gomez). In the second project, an inexpensive UAV-deployable methane sensor will be developed that will allow more economical measurements of methane in remote areas (Contact: Mark Paige). Southwest Sciences will develop small, lightweight, low power instrumentation for the in situ balloon-borne measurement of several trace gases of importance in the atmosphere of Venus, including carbon monoxide, water vapor, hydrogen fluoride, and carbonyl sulfide. (Contact: Alan Stanton)

Farm gases

Hydrogen sulfide (H2S) and methane (CH4) are two of the major pollutants associated with animal waste and sewage, and these gases can significantly affect air quality and human health. Southwest Sciences has been selected by the USDA to develop a compact, inexpensive optical sensor for H2S) and CH4 with high sensitivity and rapid time response suited for field monitoring of animal manure systems (contact: Joel Silver,).

Nitrous oxide

Nitrous oxide is the third most important greenhouse gas (GHG,) with an atmospheric lifetime of ~114 years and a global warming impact ~300 times greater than that of CO2. An accurate assessment of N2O emissions from agriculture is vital not only for understanding the global N2O balance and its impact on climate and also for designing crop systems with lower GHG emissions. Under a recently awarded DOE SBIR Fast Track grant, Southwest Sciences and Princeton University are developing new open-path eddy covariance techniques and instrumentation for continuous and fast (10 Hz) measurement of nitrous oxide emissions. (Contact: Alan Stanton; results are in this report)

Light filaments

Southwest Sciences and the University of New Mexico are partnering to investigate the use of light filaments for the detection of uranium compounds. Light filaments are formed by nonlinear interactions between high intensity, short pulse laser beams and air and allow propagation of nondivergent beams over significant distances. Such beams can be used for remote sensing via emission spectroscopy. This work is funded by the DOE/NNSA STTR program. (Contact: Kris Peterson)

Diamonds as sensors

DOE is funding an experiment to measure the electric dipole moment of neutron. This sophisticated experiment tests the standard model of particle physics by monitoring the response of neutrons in crossed electric and magnetic fields. Southwest Sciences has teamed with physicists at the University of Illinois to develop a method for measuring the strength of these electric and magnetic fields within the interaction region. It is a challenging environment, because access to the interaction region is limited, the temperature approaches absolute zero, and the sensors must cause minimal perturbations to the fields. The research will investigate a fiberized, all-optical sensor based on nitrogen-doped diamonds. (Contact: Chris Hovde; results are published here.)

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Southwest Sciences, Inc.
1570 Pacheco St., Suite E-11, Santa Fe, NM 87505
tel. (505) 984-1322/ fax (505) 988-9230



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