Glasgow Engineers Build Gravimeters from Cell Phone Components

A multidisciplinary team from the University of Glasgow has created gravimeters that only need a fraction of the size and cost to function.

Richard Middlemiss and Giles Hammond saw lots of potential in gravimeters but were limited by the high costs and heavy weights of the devices. Together with a team from the University of Glasgow they tweaked accelerometers found in mobile phones to use as gravimeters.

On March 31, 2016, Middlemiss, Hammond, A. Samarelli, D. J. Paul, J. Hough and S. Rowan published their paper ‘Measurement of the Earth tides with a MEMS gravimeter‘ in nature, the International weekly journal of science.

Wee-g is the project name for these new MEMS sensors, using nanoscale silicon springs under the twelve millimeter square sensor surface to register changes in gravity. Demonstration for the sensors was done from the University, showing off measurements of the Earth’s tides and the effects of the moon and the sun on the Earth’s crust. The paper discusses the measurement and correlation of the Earth tides data.

The project is sponsored by several different companies and government agencies, and a Science and Technologies Facilities Council grant and a Paul Instrument Fund grant. The amount of organizations contributing to the work will hopefully allow the technology to be put to use in practical field applications soon.

Hearing this on the BBC News last week immediately caught my attention as they mentioned a potential use of the gravimeters could be volcano monitoring. Placing an array of sensors around a volcano could provide early warnings for eruptions. Drones fitted with these sensors could be developed to do seismic surveying and exploration both in caves and underwater.

The work here is inspiring because of the simple idea that already proven technology can be modified to push a little farther and accomplish new tasks in new fields. University of Glasgow’s James Watt Nanofabrication Centre, the School of Physics and Astronomy, and the School of Engineering, all collaborated on the project and the paper.

(Images courtesy of the University of Glasgow)