Nano Archive

Nanotechnology impact on sensors

Brugger, Jürgen (2009) Nanotechnology impact on sensors. Nanotechnology, 20 (43). p. 430206.

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A sensor is a device that responds to a stimulus by generating a functional output induced by a change in some intrinsic properties. We are surrounded by sensors and sensing networks that monitor a multitude of parameters in view of enhancing our safety and quality of life. Sensors assist us in health care and diagnostics, they monitor our environment, our aeroplanes and automobiles, our mobile phones, game consoles and watches, and last but not least, many of our human body functions. Modern sensing systems have greatly benefited in recent decades from advances in microelectronics and microengineering, mainly in view of making sensors smaller, cheaper, more sensitive, more selective, and with a better signal-to-noise ratio, following classical scaling rules. So how about nanotechnology-enabled sensing? Nanoscale features have a great impact on many (though not all) sensing systems, in particular where the surface-to-volume ratio plays a fundamental role, such as in certain chemical and gas sensors. The high surface-to-volume ratios of nanoporous and nanostructured materials have led to their implementation in sensing systems since sensing research first began to engage with the nanotechnology. The surface plasmon resonances of nanostructures have also enriched the scope for developing novel sensing devices. On the other hand, sensors where bulk properties dominate, such as inertial sensors, are less likely to benefit from extreme scaling. Advances in thin film techniques and chemical synthesis have allowed material properties to be tailored to sensing requirements for enhanced performance. These bottom-up fabrication techniques enable parallel fabrication of ordered nanostructures, often in domain-like areas with molecular precision. At the same time the progress in top-down methods such as scanning probe lithography, nanoimprint lithography, soft-lithography and stencil lithography have also facilitated research into sensing and actuating nanotechnology. Although radically different from each other, these techniques represent a formidable toolset for structuring materials at the nanoscale in a multitude of fashions. The availability of these new nanopatterning techniques are increasingly implemented in the manufacturing of advanced sensor systems, and we can expect in the next decade an increased emergence of micro- and nanosensor systems that implement novel nano-functionalities thanks to cost-effective fabrication. Moreover, some of these techniques are desktop tools that can be used on your kitchen table at home. Thus, over the past 20 years we have witnessed a democratization of nanotechnology. More and more researchers, engineers, and even schoolchildren, can benefit from and use these new methods and devise novel applications for nanosystems. This is certainly beneficial to expediting a further dramatic increase in knowledge and the development of actual devices and applications that put gains in our understanding of nanosystems into practice. Nanotechnology is a relatively young discipline compared to classical engineering, and it is inherently interdisciplinary. It seems that in many fields we are actually just beginning to venture into these new dimensions. Challenges remain, however, in all aspects of nanotechnology. We need to improve imaging performance by enabling faster (video rate) coverage of larger surfaces, eventually down to the molecular scale. We also need to perfect nanopatterning methods to improve resolution, overlay and throughput capabilities. Future nanomanufacturing will most likely rely on combinations of top-down engineering and bottom-up self-assembly. Last but not least, we need to find ways for the mutual integration of multiple length-scale devices (nano/micro/macro) so that we can program a 'nano-functionality' into a microsystem exactly where it is needed. Such improvements will ultimately lead to improved sensors and contribute not only to improvements in our quality of life but also to building energy-saving systems that can be fabricated with low-waste manufacturing methods.

Item Type:Article
ID Code:11304
Deposited By:Prof. Alexey Ivanov
Deposited On:01 Nov 2011 23:34
Last Modified:02 Nov 2011 00:47

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