Missoula company makes deal to build ocean sensors

A Missoula company is getting a $2.5 million contract to make special sensors invented by a University of Montana professor that will be used to monitor oceans, the National Science Foundation announced.

The contract announced Friday with Sunburst Sensors LLC has the company making 110 of the devices developed by chemistry professor Mike DeGrandpre.

“It’s a big thing for Missoula,” DeGrandpre said. “We’ll be hiring. We just don’t really know (how many). We haven’t scaled up to this level before.”

DeGrandpre started Sunburst Sensors in 1999, the Missoulian reported (http://bit.ly/yWTITS ), but he continues to work as a chemistry professor at the University of Montana. The company is run full-time by Jim Beck, a mechanical engineer who joined Sunburst Sensors in 2005.

“We’ve really made a lot of progress over the past several years in proving our work and getting national recognition,” Beck said. “It’s going to be a lot of work. There will be some growing pains, but we’re definitely excited we were chosen for this.”

Over the next three years, the Submersible Autonomous Moored Instruments will be deployed as part of the 30-year Ocean Observatories Initiative. The sensors, which cost about $22,000 each, are designed to track pH levels and the amount of dissolved carbon dioxide in water. Officials said most of the sensors will be moored off coastal North America.

DeGrandpre said the company’s selection for the contract is recognition that it is building a good product.

“Not getting it financially wouldn’t be devastating,” he said. “But oceanographers know our company. If we didn’t get it, that would signal our technology isn’t the best.”

The sensors are part of a plan to better understand ocean acidification, in which bodies of water absorb increasing amounts of carbon dioxide from the air.

DeGrandpre said the submersible sensors he developed have a pressure housing system and sensor information system that make them able to collect information more accurately. The sensors are also able to send continuous information through satellite transmitters.

“We can look at small changes in levels from more time and across more space,” DeGrandpre said.


CBS, 11 February 2012. Article.

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