Engineering team uses smartphone technology to measure surfaces

A York University-led research team is using a smartphone to revolutionize the way we measure the physical properties of surfaces.

A York University-led research team is using a smartphone to revolutionize the way we measure the physical properties of surfaces. Lassonde

A York University-led research team is using a smartphone to revolutionize the way we measure the physical properties of surfaces

Two of the most important properties of surfaces are contact angle and surface (or interfacial) tension and the traditional means for measuring these properties require expensive, bulky, and complex technology.

Professor Alidad Amirfazli, out of York University’s Lassonde School of Engineering, and his team at the Surface Engineering and Instrumentation Lab (SEiL) are breaking this 30-year-old design mold.

Through the use of a smartphone, the engineering group has built a measurement instrument that entirely circumvents the need for bulky and expensive fixtures and hardware.

“This new and improved technology is a significant advancement in the field of surface science,” said Amirfazli.

The technology introduces a contact angle and surface tension measurement instrument that is cost-efficient, compact and portable.

The system also enables integrated Internet connectivity, allowing for better document management and record keeping. In addition to its cost-effectiveness and portability, the smartphone-based instrument has been shown to match, and in some cases outperforms, top-of-the-line traditional instruments.

The advantages of this new instrument can create an educational and training market for this otherwise financially inaccessible tool within universities, colleges and even high schools, says Amirfazli. Given that the measurement of contact angle and surface tension have broad applications to a wide range of industries (e.g. coating, food, pharmaceuticals, oil and gas, for instance) and academia, increased accessibility will make the large-scale training of students and researchers a possibility.

In collaboration with Innovation York, Amirfazli and his group are in the process of building a start-up company, Droplet Lab, around their mobile surface tensiometry technology. Through the collaboration with Innovation York, Droplet Lab receives business development and intellectual property support.

Amirfazli and his research group have received several awards, including a $125,000 grant from the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Idea to Innovation Program, as well as a $50,000 grant from York University’s Vision: Science to Applications (VISTA) program.

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