Grain-of-sand size sensors to monitor conditions in deep, unconventional oil reservoirs

Jul 29, 2019

By UCLA Samueli Newsroom

A professor of electrical and computer engineering at UCLA Samueli, has received $1.25 million in research funding from the U.S. Department of Energy to miniaturize powerful diagnostic sensor systems down to the size of a grain of sand.

Aydin BabakhaniAydin Babakhani is developing wirelessly powered sensors to monitor hydraulic fracturing processes, which is used to extract oil and gas from difficult-to-reach reservoirs. The microchip system also includes an antenna to transmit the information back to the surface, giving engineers above ground a more detailed picture of what’s happening in real time, and making the extraction process more cost effective. The tiny sensors would be carried into the wells along with “proppants,” which are small grains of sand, ceramics, or other materials that are used to keep the wells flowing.

The UCLA funding is part of a $2.5 million grant to the University of Kansas from the energy department’s National Energy Technology Laboratory.


Prototypes of sensors, developed at the UCLA Integrated Sensors Lab, to monitor deep, unconventional oil wells. The smallest ones are about the size of a grain of sand.”

Babakhani leads the UCLA Integrated Sensors Laboratory, which develops sensors and systems with applications in high-speed wireless technologies, radar, medical implants, and energy infrastructure monitoring. Babakhani’s laboratory has built a suite of millimeter-scale, battery-less, wirelessly powered sensors and actuators that include on-chip antennas, radios, sensing elements, and actuation units. These devices will be used in a broad spectrum of applications, from wirelessly powered pacemakers and medical implants, to infrastructure monitoring in harsh conditions.


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