A Polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) Waveguide Sensor that Mimics a Neuromast to Measure Fluid Flow Velocity
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Accurate flow measurement is a ubiquitous task in fields such as industry, medical technology, or chemistry; it remains however challenging due to small measurement ranges or erosive flows. Inspiration for possible measurement methods can come from nature, for example from the lateral line organ of fish, which is comprised of hair cells embedded in a gelatinous cupula. When the cupula is deflected by water movement, the hair cells generate neural signals from which the fish gains an accurate representation of its environment. We built a flow sensor mimicking a hair cell, but coupled it with an optical detection method. Light is coupled into a PDMS waveguide that consists of a core and a cladding with a low refractive index contrast to ensure high bending sensitivity. Fluid flow bends the waveguide; this leads to a measurable light loss. The design of our sensory system allows flow measurement in opaque and corrosive fluids while keeping production costs low. To prove the measurement concept, we evaluated the light loss while (a) reproducibly bending the fiber with masses, and (b) exposing the fiber to air flow. The results demonstrate the applicability of an optical fiber as a flow sensor.