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Semiconductor Devices and Microfabrication

Mars Dust - SSID

Dust is a significant factor of the atmosphere of Mars and our ability to learn about Mars. Although some information has been collected about the dust on Mars, it has not been all encompassing and has not addressed the issue of the charge of dust particles. Understanding the aspects of the mass and charge of the dust on Mars will shed light on how equipment will interact with the Mars environment. This includes the equipment that would be used to aid in human journeys to Mars, such as equipment for oxygen generation and respirators.

This project is being funded by NASA. We are working with Dr. Wood Chiang’s research group in BYU’s electrical engineering department and Dr. Daniel Austin’s research group from BYU’s chemistry department.

Our goal is to create an instrument that can collect accurate data about both the size and charge of dust particles on Mars. This instrument is based off of charge detection mass spectrometry, CDMS. Mass spectrometry is an analytical technique where the charge to mass ratio of particles is determined and a spectrum is made with the data.


Particles will be pumped into the device and pass over two PCBs (Printed Circuit Board) sandwiched together. As the particle travels between the boards, a charge is induced (the particle, because of its charge, causes a charge) on both top and bottom plates and then is amplified. This process will measure their charge. The mass of the particles can be found by accelerating and returning them to their original speed, then measuring time difference between signal peaks.


The amplifier chip takes the power received from the particle and increases it so the signal received from the particle can be detected, measured and analyzed better. It is custom designed by Dr. Chiang’s group to have a clearer signal and lower noise (noise in this case would be comparable to static which distorts the sound when listening to the radio) than the industry amplifier that has been used for other projects including NASA missions previously.

Dr. Hawkin’s group is primarily involved in working with and optimizing the PCB to decrease capacitance. Doing this helps decrease noise and increase gain. This process includes simulating different geometries of the board, milling out the board and testing it.