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Sensor technology experts from around the world gather at William and Mary

Know it or not, your life is probably impacted by the technology of sensors on a daily basis. From security and fire suppression systems to research on bay erosion and storm surge, sensors are playing an ever increasing role in today’s world. Through its research and economic development efforts, William and Mary is more involved in the growth of sensor technology than one might realize at first glance.Nichol welcomes those attending the sensors conference. By Stephen Salpukas.

“It’s truly astonishing how many sensors are out there,” said Bill Bean, director of William and Mary’s Technology and Business Center. “Someone predicted … there will be 10,000 sensors installed for every man, woman and child on the face of the earth within the next 100 years.”

Experts on sensor technology from around the globe are in Williamsburg for three days this week to explore that very subject at the World Sensors Conference. William and Mary President Gene R. Nichol welcomed the participants December 12.

“We think sensor technologies offer tremendous opportunity for the academic community,” Nichol said. “Our researchers are actively engaged in developing and applying sensors, and they are eager to work with you … . William and Mary is pleased to be a part of this dynamic community.”

The international conference is the premier event of the National Association of Sensor Science and Technology, which works to bring together education, research, government affairs and industry. The recently formed group is headquartered in Hampton Roads and worked closely with William and Mary’s Office of Economic Development to bring the conference to Williamsburg. The conference features discussions of aerospace, homeland security, chemical and biological sensing, machine health, and other import sensor technology applications and research.

“We are delighted that their first conference is in Williamsburg,” said Jim Golden, associate vice-president for economic development at William and Mary. “We hope sensor companies here [Hampton Roads] expand and hire more folks and pump more money into the economy.”

William and Mary’s economic development office works tirelessly to connect the cutting edge research occurring in departments across campus, including computer science, physics, mathematics, applied science and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, with businesses seeking to utilize these technologies.

From the development of sensor platforms and new algorithms to increase the utility and sensitivity of sensors, to the work of the Center for Piezoelectrics by Design at the Applied Research Center and materials research, William and Mary is engaged in multiple aspects of sensor use and technology.

Sensors are among three areas of higher technology research that often have commercial application – sensors, modeling/simulation and bio-medical, Golden said.

“The hardest part is linking research with commercial application,” he added. “Groups like this help us to get feedback on our research.”

When it comes to connecting the two areas, William and Mary is right in the middle. The College, through its Technology and Business Center, chairs the Hampton Roads Technology Council's Sensors Forum and participates in the Hampton Roads Research Partnership, which helped coordinate the sensors conference. The Hampton Roads Research Partnership, with funding support from the U.S. Department of Commerce, promotes collaboration between regional researchers and industry in three high technology clusters - the sensors cluster led by William and Mary and the modeling/simulation and bio-medical clusters coordinated by Old Dominion University and Eastern Virginia Medical School, respectively.

Golden noted that sensor technology can have a real economic development impact in a region, saying he hopes to brand the Hampton Roads area as a region supportive of sensor related research. Thanks to Golden and Bean, William and Mary will be at the front of that effort.

“Sensors are here and now and very much the thing for the future,” Bean added.

“[They] ought to become a huge economic draw for the region,” he continued. “It should be a beacon for companies that are looking for some area to relocate to … . They can come here and get plugged into that community far, far quicker than they probably could just about any other place in the U.S.”

A fact the presence of the World Sensors Conference confirms.