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Designing Wireless Sensors To Be Dropped Into Volcanoes

Soulskill posted more than 3 years ago | from the appeasing-the-spectrum-gods dept.

Earth 126

Thorfinn.au writes with this quote from El Reg: "Topflight engineers based in Newcastle have hit upon a radical plan for warning of volcanic eruptions. They intend to build a heatproof sensor unit which can be dropped into a volcano's caldera and wirelessly transmit data to monitoring stations despite being possibly immersed in molten rock. 'At the moment we have no way of accurately monitoring the situation inside a volcano and in fact most data collection actually goes on post-eruption. With an estimated 500 million people living in the shadow of a volcano this is clearly not ideal,' explains Dr. Alton Horsfall of Newcastle Uni's Centre for Extreme Environment Technology. 'We still have some way to go but using silicon carbide technology we hope to develop a wireless communication system that could accurately collect and transmit chemical data from the very depths of a volcano.'"

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126 comments

Why? (3, Funny)

PPH (736903) | more than 3 years ago | (#33638584)

Have we run out of virgins already?

Re:Why? (4, Funny)

MyLongNickName (822545) | more than 3 years ago | (#33638678)

On Slashdot?! Certainly you jest.

Re:Why? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33638858)

Need a fresh supply of virgins?
Bait the hook for Wesley Crusher types.

1. Produce project of interest to nerds.
2. Get article written on it.
3. Get article posted at Slashdot.
4. Reel them in as they bite the hook.

Re:Why? (2, Informative)

Shakrai (717556) | more than 3 years ago | (#33638980)

Bait the hook for Wesley Crusher types.

Except Wesley Crusher got to have sex with Ashley Judd [memory-alpha.org]......

Re:Why? (1)

blair1q (305137) | more than 3 years ago | (#33640078)

It doesn't say that. It says he went on a date with her. And then that his marriage to her was elided from the canon preemptively.

So, really, you have to flash your table light at least a little for the protectors of the canon for this one.

Re:Why? (1)

TooMuchToDo (882796) | more than 3 years ago | (#33638988)

Clearly just the ugly ones. No sense in throwing the easy-on-the-eyes ones into a volcano, eh?

Re:Why? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33639076)

Fuck that, your next pretty boy.

Re:Why? (3, Funny)

TrisexualPuppy (976893) | more than 3 years ago | (#33638996)

Forget the virgins. I'm still looking for the unexploded nuclear bombs dropped from the DC-8-like spacecraft.

I'm sooooo close to OT7, just one more!

Re:Why? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33639532)

Reference.. Xenu threw a bunch of people in a volcano and then killed them off with hydrogen bombs or somesuch nonsense.

Re:Why? (1)

sznupi (719324) | more than 3 years ago | (#33639366)

Well... [wikipedia.org]

So we at least won't run out of dolhins? (it's a good time to save them while trying to launch the probe apparently, as in "The Devil's Window")

Also, it might help unciver lost treasures Black Beard the pirate... ("Greed For a Pirate's Dream")

Re:Why? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33640136)

Look out - Unobtainium is going to get expensive again.

Maybe they can find proof of Lord Xenu's crimes (4, Informative)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 3 years ago | (#33638592)

Finally, Scientology will be vindicated!

Re:Maybe they can find proof of Lord Xenu's crimes (4, Interesting)

Shakrai (717556) | more than 3 years ago | (#33639078)

I saw the Scientologists at the New York State Fair a few weeks ago. They were offering "free" personality tests and weren't advertising themselves as Scientologists. I figured it out when I saw the stack of Dianetics books behind them. Once I saw that I stood at attention and loudly proclaimed "HAIL LORD XENU!"

The fuckers have no sense of humor at all. They actually called the damn cops over because of my "harassment". I'm guessing it wasn't the first time they did that because the LEO handled it by pulling me aside and saying "I can't make you leave but could you please leave them alone? I don't want to fill out more paperwork because of them."

Re:Maybe they can find proof of Lord Xenu's crimes (1)

SnarfQuest (469614) | more than 3 years ago | (#33639672)

Just you wait! Once Scientology buys SCO, all you Linux geeks will have to submit $699 to them, and submit to a personality test and thee weeks of auditing.

Government Conspiracy (1)

sprior (249994) | more than 3 years ago | (#33638620)

This is just the government trying to "pre-bug" those granite slabs right from the quarry.

Re:Government Conspiracy (3, Funny)

Speare (84249) | more than 3 years ago | (#33638818)

This is just the government trying to "pre-bug" those granite slabs right from the quarry.

Are you saying the government is taking us for granite? I've been saying that for years.

Re:Government Conspiracy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33640532)

Don't be so igneous!

I don't think so (2, Informative)

seven of five (578993) | more than 3 years ago | (#33638664)

Even if the package is heat-proof, the electronics are going to fry [wikipedia.org].

Re:I don't think so (2, Funny)

countSudoku() (1047544) | more than 3 years ago | (#33638868)

Not with advanced oven-mitt technologies! The precious, and every so finicky, electronic components will be as cool as cucumbers in a summer salad!

Re:I don't think so (1)

robot256 (1635039) | more than 3 years ago | (#33638870)

What you need to do is immerse the main part of the electronics in a large vat of parafin and liquid nitrogen that will boil off rapidly but last long enough for the sensor to send back some data.

Re:I don't think so (1)

JTsyo (1338447) | more than 3 years ago | (#33638982)

Thin the idea is to leave them there to warn when the volcano has a change in its characteristics. Of course I didn't RTFA.

Re:I don't think so (2, Interesting)

idontgno (624372) | more than 3 years ago | (#33640322)

Their in-depth chemical analysis of the lava in the volcanic caldera will reveal startling amounts of hydrocarbon and nitrogen gas. Someone will pin global warming on this, attempting to counter anthropogenic GW. Hilarity will ensue.

Re:I don't think so (1)

DNS-and-BIND (461968) | more than 3 years ago | (#33638984)

If the package is heat-proof, then the temperature of the electronics will stay within its operating range and the device will function normally. Magma is only 1300-2400F.

Re:I don't think so (1)

PeterM from Berkeley (15510) | more than 3 years ago | (#33639262)

If you RTFA, they mentioned that they're going to be using a different-than-standard electronic technology based on silicon carbide rather than silicon. Silicon carbide does not decompose until 2730C, per Wikipedia, wereas the Wiki article you mention states that "most" magma is around 1300C or less.

What I wonder is if you make a conventional CPU out of SiC, you can operate it at a far higher clock because it won't melt itself, thus enabling high performance CPUs or perhaps 3D integration.

--PeterM

Re:I don't think so (3, Insightful)

jandrese (485) | more than 3 years ago | (#33639400)

I'm more curious how they plan to power such a device, and how they plan to wirelessly transmit signals through molten rock.

Re:I don't think so (1)

Shakrai (717556) | more than 3 years ago | (#33639658)

I'm more curious how they plan to power such a device

Would a TEG [wikipedia.org] work?

Re:I don't think so (1)

jandrese (485) | more than 3 years ago | (#33640630)

Anything that's a heat engine (which account for most every way we know to generate power today) won't work because a heat engine requires both a hot side and a cold side. They'll have plenty of hot, but finding a cold side when you're immersed in magma is not going to be easy.

TEGs require a cool side as well, so they won't work.

Even if you could solve the power problem (1)

sean.peters (568334) | more than 3 years ago | (#33641506)

and the "preventing your equipment from melting" problem, how do you solve the "transmitting signals through molten rock" problem?

Re:I don't think so (1)

locallyunscene (1000523) | more than 3 years ago | (#33640138)

Those were my questions as well. I wonder if they could leverage the energy in the molten rock somehow. It will be swimming in a sea of energy.

And maybe I've heard too much technobabble over the years, but doesn't molten rock have its own magnetic fields?

Re:I don't think so (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33640228)

And maybe I've heard too much technobabble over the years, but doesn't molten rock have its own magnetic fields?

Fuckin' magma, how does it work?

Re:I don't think so (1)

0123456 (636235) | more than 3 years ago | (#33639524)

What I wonder is if you make a conventional CPU out of SiC, you can operate it at a far higher clock because it won't melt itself, thus enabling high performance CPUs or perhaps 3D integration.

--PeterM

I'm not quite sure that I really want my laptop's CPU running at 2500C under load...

They don't use Silicon Electronics (1)

Myrv (305480) | more than 3 years ago | (#33639462)

FTA:

According to Horsfall and his fellow nails-tough tech developers, their carbide electronics can keep working up to temperatures of 900C. This is actually sufficient to withstand immersion in some lavas/magmas, though by no means all.

Apparently they aren't using Silicon based electronics so they don't need to keep the sensor that cool (at least from a silicon point of view). But even if the electronics can handle it I'm still not entirely sure what they would use to power it all (Sodium Nickel Chloride battery typically work between 270 and 350C, other molten salt batteries used in missile systems typically operate between 400-550C).

Re:I don't think so (1)

Locke2005 (849178) | more than 3 years ago | (#33639496)

They're collecting data on the way down though the air. I'm pretty sure you can't transmit through lava anyway; once they hit the surface, they're toast.

Re:I don't think so (1)

slick7 (1703596) | more than 3 years ago | (#33641262)

Even if the package is heat-proof, the electronics are going to fry [wikipedia.org].

What a chance to test layered aerogel.

Friendly trollish reminder (1)

DriedClexler (814907) | more than 3 years ago | (#33638684)

Bobby Jindal mocked volcano monitoring shortly before the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull and some other one in the US. No, can't find the name of the US one right now. But this was after Obama's first State of the Union Address.

Re:Friendly trollish reminder (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33638772)

Quite serious question:

Apart from the initial explosion what is to be done? If we knew Eyjafjallongname was going to explode and disrupt air travel, could we have done anything? We don't have the technology to fend exploding mountains or the million metric tons of ash put up in the skies.

Re:Friendly trollish reminder (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33638970)

Run away?

Re:Friendly trollish reminder (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33639238)

There's a chance to prepare. Evacuate nearby islands, go buy groceries to prepare to stay inside for a while, get your livestock sheltered and food sealed from the ash, etc.

Re:Friendly trollish reminder (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 3 years ago | (#33639548)

BMW for instance would have shipped more parts ahead of time, so their factories did not need to close. Lots of folks would have done things like that, or made alternate plans for shipping goods.

Re:Friendly trollish reminder (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 3 years ago | (#33638896)

I still get tear-eyed thinking of those evil, Republican governors mocking our delicate, sensitive volcanoes. You can't expect one to perform under those circumstances.

Re:Friendly trollish reminder (1)

MozeeToby (1163751) | more than 3 years ago | (#33639090)

As much as I love poking fun at conservative politicians, the guy had a point. He was speaking out against volcano monitoring as part of an economic stimulus package, not as part of the general budget. He was using it as a valid example of how special interest groups (in this case, some researchers who happened to have contacts in a senator's office) had managed to earmark some of the stimulus for things that would do very little to increase consumer spending.

Re:Friendly trollish reminder (1)

DriedClexler (814907) | more than 3 years ago | (#33641444)

Then he should have said so: "Whatever merit these earmarks might have, but it is irresponsible to promote funding for them on grounds of stimulus."

Instead, he trivialized the idea wholesale by saying [nytimes.com]:

... their legislation is larded with wasteful spending. It includes ... $140 million for something called volcano monitoring.

Instead of monitoring volcanoes, what Congress should be monitoring is the eruption of spending in Washington, D.C.[bold added]

WTF?

But... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33638694)

... do we really need a Lord of the Rings remake?

Token ring (1)

Script Cat (832717) | more than 3 years ago | (#33639552)

One Sensor to connect them all, One Sensor to find them,
One sensor to bring them all and in the darkness bind them

Would it be able to use a Token ring protocol?

Re:Token ring (1)

trb (8509) | more than 3 years ago | (#33639812)

One Sensor to connect them all, One Sensor to find them,
One sensor to bring them all and in the darkness bind them

Would it be able to use a Tolkien ring protocol?

FTFY

Topflight? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33638752)

So the sensor is going to look like a big golf ball? I guess that will be one tough course. "And Tiger Woods is puling a long drive down the middle of Krakatowa... ohhh, and he's in the lava! That will be tough shot out, what do you think John?" "He might need a #2 wedge for that one, Bob".

Let's call it... (4, Funny)

surmak (1238244) | more than 3 years ago | (#33638764)

volcano information recorder going into netherworld

Re:Let's call it... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33639248)

You'd probably be at +5 by now if you'd written

Volcano Information Recorder Going Into Netherworld

Re:Let's call it... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33639854)

"Volcanic Information Relay & Gathering Intelligence Node" is my proposal

Next stop: Venus? (4, Interesting)

RobertB-DC (622190) | more than 3 years ago | (#33638790)

Venus, with temperatures hot enough to melt lead, has proven a tough nut to crack for probes hoping to return information about its awesomely hellish surface. But if we're talking about a small probe that can transmit while bobbing around like a cork in a lake of liquid rock... well, mere "lead-melting" heat should be a walk in the park for that little critter.

Send a craft with a few hundred of these guys in its hold, drop 'em on the surface, and find out what's going on with our evil-twin-sister planet. I especially want to know what's going on with the Venusian highlands, where there seems to be a radar-reflecting "frost" of heavy metals [bbc.co.uk] coating the ground. Even if all these probes can tell us is how blisteringly hot it is, that's got to tell us *something* about the environment. Venus sounds like a metal-ore refinery, and I'd love for someone to decide that it's worth a few (hundred) billion bucks to go get some of that Unobtanium (or whatever) and bring it back to Earth.

Re:Next stop: Venus? (1)

Colonel Sponsz (768423) | more than 3 years ago | (#33639304)

Science reporting at its best. I especially liked this quote:

The only way to glimpse what lies beneath its opaque clouds is by radar, and several missions have carried our radar surveys from orbit, principally the Magellan probe which operated from 1990 to 1994.

It's not like we have pictures from the surface of Venus [mentallandscape.com] or anything...

That goes for your post as well. While Venus is a fascinating planet in many ways, and I too would like to see more probes sent to it, your post comes across as crackpottery:

Even if all these probes can tell us is how blisteringly hot it is, that's got to tell us *something* about the environment. Venus sounds like a metal-ore refinery, and I'd love for someone to decide that it's worth a few (hundred) billion bucks to go get some of that Unobtanium (or whatever) and bring it back to Earth.

Re:Next stop: Venus? (2, Informative)

mbone (558574) | more than 3 years ago | (#33639712)

Venus is 425 C (or so), and these are rated up to 900 C, so they absolutely should work on Venus.

Of course, this is not new. From a description of the Soviet Venera landers [mentallandscape.com] :

"By the time of Venera-13 and 14, a surprising amount of complex equipment was simply installed outside the pressure hull, exposed to the intensely hostile surface conditions. By this time, Soviet engineers had developed new heat-resistant materials and electronics that were comfortable in this working environment."

i'm skeptical... (1)

Mike Kristopeit (1900306) | more than 3 years ago | (#33638908)

how could anything dense enough to keep molten rock out be permeable enough to let wireless signals escape?

i've seen amazing things, so i'm not going to say it's impossible... but landing on the moon is cake in comparison.

How do they transmit through several feet of rock? (1)

Sonny Yatsen (603655) | more than 3 years ago | (#33638914)

I think the more interesting aspect of what they are proposing isn't so much that they're building a super-durable sensor rig that can withstand the heat of liquid magma, but rather how they propose to transmit through several feet of liquid hot rock. They must pack one hell of a powerful transmitter into the probe.

Re:How do they transmit through several feet of ro (1)

TooMuchToDo (882796) | more than 3 years ago | (#33639026)

Or an extremely sensitive receiver near the volcano edge. Perhaps using extremely low frequency signals to get through the dense molten/solid rock? Slow as hell bitrate though =(

Use sound! (1)

DrJimbo (594231) | more than 3 years ago | (#33641138)

Transmitting signals wirelessly through ocean water presents many of the same difficulties. There is already a very well developed technology for doing this based on sound. The transmitters are usually trivial to build. The tough part is the receiver because in order to get high data rates, you have to go to great lengths to compensate for extreme multipath distortion (echoes).

Re:How do they transmit through several feet of ro (1)

Unequivocal (155957) | more than 3 years ago | (#33639072)

Yeah - good point. I was wondering the same thing. It's one thing to dunk a sensor into molten rock and have it continue to function. It's another to get it to transmit through the heat/density/whatever above it. Hmm. On the plus side if they have anything that can convert heat to electricity they'll have power to spare (though they'll need to setup some kind of a heat differential somehow as best I understand thermodyanmics).

Re:How do they transmit through several feet of ro (1)

Abstrackt (609015) | more than 3 years ago | (#33639122)

Maybe they'd drop several at different points/heights and establish a mesh network. That way, as long as you could reach one sensor you could reach all or most of the sensors that are still operational.

Re:How do they transmit through several feet of ro (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33639264)

And why not just scoop some molten rock out in a bucket and test it outside the volcano?

Re:How do they transmit through several feet of ro (1)

nomel (244635) | more than 3 years ago | (#33639292)

Is molten rock all that conductive or much of a dielectric? If not, then it wouldn't be much different than passing a radio wave through several layers of concrete (walls). This will be much easier than trying to transmit out from water, a conductive and very dielectric material.

Re:How do they transmit through several feet of ro (1)

blair1q (305137) | more than 3 years ago | (#33640000)

Molten rock can have almost any chemical composition, just like solidified rock. So the answer is "yes".

Re:How do they transmit through several feet of ro (1)

jbeaupre (752124) | more than 3 years ago | (#33640434)

The short answer is magma is conductive. Look up melting a beer bottle in a microwave to learn why.

Re:How do they transmit through several feet of ro (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33640656)

Smoke signals

Go commercial, off-the-shelf (1)

Overzeetop (214511) | more than 3 years ago | (#33638966)

I'm convinced that D-link has been making wireless gear for this for years. I frequently find that this may be the only use for their wireless equipment.

volcano devices (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33639036)

Adds a whole new meaning to hot spots.

Ill bet its running linux and someone will have a hack for it within a week.

+5 reps (1)

JTsyo (1338447) | more than 3 years ago | (#33639040)

If they can power it with the heat available in the volcano. How does the thermo work out for running a cooler powered by ambient temperature and dumping the created heat back.

Misleading summary (4, Informative)

Pinckney (1098477) | more than 3 years ago | (#33639214)

According to Horsfall and his fellow nails-tough tech developers, their carbide electronics can keep working up to temperatures of 900C. This is actually sufficient to withstand immersion in some lavas/magmas, though by no means all. In any case it's difficult to see how any wireless signal could be transmitted through molten minerals, so presumably the inventors are talking more about locating their kit in places within a caldera which - although extremely hot - are not enough so to actually melt rock.

The caldera [wikipedia.org] is not a synonym for lava puddles. They're talking about putting a sensor in the caldera where it can detect gasses. It's not likely to be floating, much less submerged, and in fact that would presumably interfere with the mission of detecting various gasses.

(I've only read the article, not the papers)

Different Doping? (1)

Script Cat (832717) | more than 3 years ago | (#33639326)

Are you making your own semiconductors?
I am curious if it is possible to use doping levels on the chips that would allow them to work at high temperatures while not necessarily working at room temperature.
Perhaps you could get with NASA. I bet they would need something similar for exploring Venus.

Britney Spears may be able to enlighten us on the subject. http://britneyspears.ac/lasers.htm [britneyspears.ac]

cooking sensors (3, Interesting)

trb (8509) | more than 3 years ago | (#33639372)

A hacker pal of mine worked at Tektronix in the late 70's, he told me this story. Tektronix made all kinds of oscilloscopes and electronic test gear. Apparently, they had a fancy special-purpose scope (cost maybe $10k/each), that they sold about 20 of each year. Suddenly, one company started ordering 4 or these scopes a month. This was surprising to Tektronix, and they had to change their inventory handling to deal with this change in demand. They decided to call the customer and figure out what they were using all these scopes for.

Turns out the customer was one of the research labs (LANL or something, I forget which). They were measuring nuclear reactions, and using these scopes because they had a particular kind of sensor, but the tests were destructive, and every time they ran the experiment (once a week), they vaporized a scope. I think they figured out a way to sell the customer the sensor without wrapping it in all the fancy scopey packaging.

Re:cooking sensors (1)

blair1q (305137) | more than 3 years ago | (#33639948)

Or maybe sell them a few extra feet of wire for the probe...

Although, really, it sounds a bit apocryphal, like maybe you're misremembering it. Because I can't think of a situation where you'd want to have a scope that would be destroyed by the test, since to use a scope you need something to observe the scope, it being a scope, see...which means maybe what they weren't telling you is that a technician was being vaporized along with the scope, see...

(And at the point where we figure out what the real deal is here I'm going to have an "aha!" sort of recognition. I remember those late 70s Tektronix catalogs; I used to read them over and over like they were pr0n...)

Re:cooking sensors (1)

trb (8509) | more than 3 years ago | (#33640600)

Measurement may be constrained by conditions like timing and signal levels (before amplification). Both of these can be solved by using a properly designed sensor that might live in a fancy plastic box, and it wouldn't be the same with a few extra feet of wire. (Would you put a few extra feet of wire between a motherboard and an in-circuit emulator?)

X-Prize candidate (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33640278)

Seems to me that this is a good X-Prize candidate...

To late sensor (1)

Shotgun (30919) | more than 3 years ago | (#33640382)

Great! Now we will have a "you're going to die in 30 seconds" sensor to go along with the "replace engine" indicator light in our cars!!

Can you hear me now? (1)

RealGrouchy (943109) | more than 3 years ago | (#33640550)

What, there aren't enough guys on cellphones asking "Can you hear me now?" to drop into volcanoes? You don't need a fancy probe to detect wireless signals.

- RG>

"Simpsons already did it!" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33641120)

Yeah, we did this on SeaQuest in in 1993-4. Season 1, eps 103 & 116- The Devil's WIndow and Greed for a Pirate's Dream.

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