Small, Cheap Gravity Gadget Adapted into Sensitive Gravity Detector

Sunday, April 3, 2016 - 22:44

UK researchers have created a cheap, small, mass-producible device which is able to be used to enhance oil field yields and predict volcano eruptions.

According at Science Daily report, researchers of the University of Glasgow in the UK have been able to predict volcano eruptions by using a gravimeter, an instrument for measuring the local gravitational field of the Earth. A gravimeter is a type of accelerometer, specialized for measuring the constant downward acceleration of gravity, which varies by about 0.5% over the surface of the Earth. This device is mostly used for oil exploration and science mapping.

Using the same micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) that are made for use in phones' accelerometers, the scientists at Glasgow University have made a compact device named Wee-g, adapting cheap, widely-available technology to make a small but powerful gravimeter for the first time. Affordable, portable gravimeters could have a wide range of applications, including volcano monitoring, environmental surveying, and oil exploration.

While the MEMS technology in phones uses relatively stiff and insensitive springs to maintain the orientation of the screen relative to the Earth, Wee-g employs a silicon spring ten times thinner than a human hair. This allows Wee-g’s 12mm-square sensor to detect very small changes in gravity.

The detector, built at the University’s James Watt Nanofabrication Centre, is a collaboration between the School of Physics and Astronomy (Institute for Gravitational Research) and the School of Engineering (Electrical & Nanoscale). The work is one of the first research outcomes from QuantIC, the UK’s centre of excellence for research, development and innovation in quantum enhanced imaging, which was established in 2015.

The team used their device to measure the Earth tides from the basement of the University’s Kelvin building. Many people are familiar with the idea that the gravitational pull of the moon affects the tides of the planet’s seas and oceans, but the moon and the sun also exert a subtle effect on the Earth’s crust, an effect known as the ‘Earth tides’. The pull of the sun and the moon displace the crust, creating a very slight expansion and contraction of the planet of around 40cm.

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