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Humidity, temperature and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), particularly ammonia, are key environmental conditions that have a major impact on human comfort, well-being and productivity, as well as on agriculture, food processing and storage, electronic manufacturing and many other industries. This results in the urgent need for the development of sensing technologies allowing rapid detection and accurate measurement of these environmental parameters. Over the past decades many electrical as well as optical sensors have been proposed and demonstrated for environmental applications. However, challenge always exists for these sensors in terms of sensitivity, selectivity, detection limit, speed of response and robustness, where researchers and engineers are still working continuously on improving the performance of these sensors.
Whispering gallery mode (WGM) optical micro-resonators have been shown to be able of detecting minute changes in their environment. This has made them a well-established platform for highly sensitive physical, chemical and biological sensors. Silica micro-resonators with high quality factors and low absorption loss can be fabricated easily at the tip of an optical fiber, and the WGMs in such resonators can be excited by evanescent light coupling using tapered fibers. The aim of this PhD thesis is the development of novel ultra-high sensitivity sensors based on silica micro-spheres functionalized with specific coatings with a particular focus on measurement of water vapor and ammonia concentration in air. A numerical simulation model has been analysed based on perturbation theory to facilitate deep understanding of WGMs in coated micro-sphere resonators and the results of the simulations have been validated by experimental studies.
Relationship between key design parameters of the sensor such as microsphere size, thickness of the coating layer, tapered fiber waist diameter, its Q factor and sensitivity has been investigated and established. A novel high sensitivity relative humidity (RH) sensor based on an agarose-coated spherical micro-resonator has been proposed and experimentally demonstrated. The sensor’s spectrum shows a wavelength shift of approximately 518 pm corresponding to a relative humidity change of 40% RH. Detailed experimental investigation of the influence of the agarose coating thickness on the sensor’s humidity response has been carried out and correlated with the analytical model results. Sensor’s performance in very low humidity environments (<10% RH) has been studied. It has been demonstrated that the proposed sensor is capable of detecting water molecules concentration in air in the order of parts per million (ppm) with good repeatability, low hysteresis and long-term stability.
A novel ultra-sensitive ammonia sensor has been proposed and developed by coating a porous silica gel on a microsphere acting as the sensing head. The sensor offers high resolution and the lowest reported to date detection limit of 0.16 ppb with response and recovery times of 1.5 s and 3.6 s respectively. Finally, a novel approach to simultaneous measurement of ammonia vapors and humidity in air with high resolution has been proposed and demonstrated experimentally. In the proposed two-parameter sensor WGMs are exited at the same time in an array of two micro-spheres coated with different polymers, namely, silica gel and agarose hydrogel, coupled to a single adiabatic fiber taper. The method can be further expanded to achieve sensing of multiple chemical and biological quantities utilizing various coatings and possibly increasing the number of sensors within the array, thus reducing the cost of sensors interrogation.
Mallik, A. K. (2018) Whispering-Gallery Mode Microsphere Resonators for Applications in Environmental Sensing. Doctoral thesis, DIT, 2018.