What is a sensor?
A sensor is a device that detects events that occur in the physical environment (like light, heat, motion, moisture, pressure, and more), and responds with an output, usually an electrical, mechanical or optical signal. The household mercury thermometer is a simple example of a sensor - it detects temperature and reacts with a measurable expansion of liquid. Sensors are everywhere - they can be found in everyday applications like touch-sensitive elevator buttons and lamp dimmer surfaces that respond to touch, but there are also many kinds of sensors that go unnoticed by most - like sensors that are used in medicine, robotics, aerospace and more.
Traditional kinds of sensors include temperature, pressure (thermistors, thermocouples, and more), moisture, flow (electromagnetic, positional displacement and more), movement and proximity (capacitive, photoelectric, ultrasonic and more), though innumerable other versions exist. sensors are divided into two groups: active and passive sensors. Active sensors (such as photoconductive cells or light detection sensors) require a power supply while passive ones (radiometers, film photography) do not.
Where can sensors be found?
Sensors are used in numerous applications, and can roughly be arranged in groups by forms of use:
- Accelerometers: Micro Electro Mechanical technology based sensors, used mainly in mobile devices, medicine for patient monitoring (like pacemakers) and vehicular systems.
- Biosensors: electrochemical technology based sensors, used for food and water testing, medical devices, fitness tracker and wristbands (that measure, for example, blood oxygen levels and heart rate) and military uses (biological warfare and more).
- Image sensors: CMOS (Complementary Metal-Oxide Semiconductor) based sensors, used in consumer electronics, biometrics, traffic and security surveillance and PC imaging.
- Motion Detectors: sensors which can be Infrared, Ultrasonic or Microwave/Radar technology. They are used in video games, security detection and light activation.
What is graphene?
Graphene is a two-dimensional material made of carbon atoms, often dubbed “miracle material” for its outstanding characteristics. It is 200 times stronger than steel at one atom thick, as well as the world’s most conductive material. It is so dense that the smallest atom of Helium cannot pass through it, but is also lightweight and transparent. Since its isolation in 2004, researchers and companies alike are fervently studying graphene, which is set to revolutionize various markets and produce improved processes, better performing components and new products.
Graphene and sensors
Graphene and sensors are a natural combination, as graphene’s large surface-to-volume ratio, unique optical properties, excellent electrical conductivity, high carrier mobility and density, high thermal conductivity and many other attributes can be greatly beneficial for sensor functions. The large surface area of graphene is able to enhance the surface loading of desired biomolecules, and excellent conductivity and small band gap can be beneficial for conducting electrons between biomolecules and the electrode surface.
Graphene is thought to become especially widespread in biosensors and diagnostics. The large surface area of graphene can enhance the surface loading of desired biomolecules, and excellent conductivity and small band gap can be beneficial for conducting electrons between biomolecules and the electrode surface. Biosensors can be used, among other things, for the detection of a range of analytes like glucose, glutamate, cholesterol, hemoglobin and more. Graphene also has significant potential for enabling the development of electrochemical biosensors, based on direct electron transfer between the enzyme and the electrode surface.
Graphene will enable sensors that are smaller and lighter - providing endless design possibilities. They will also be more sensitive and able to detect smaller changes in matter, work more quickly and eventually even be less expensive than traditional sensors. Some graphene-based sensor designs contain a Field Effect Transistor (FET) with a graphene channel. Upon detection of the targeted analyte’s binding, the current through the transistor changes, which sends a signal that can be analyzed to determine several variables.
Graphene-based nanoelectronic devices have also been researched for use in DNA sensors (for detecting nucleobases and nucleotides), Gas sensors (for detection of different gases), PH sensors, environmental contamination sensors, strain and pressure sensors, and more.
Commercial activities in the field of graphene sensors
In June 2015, A collaboration between Bosch, the Germany-based engineering giant, and scientists at the Max-Planck Institute for Solid State Research yielded a graphene-based magnetic sensor 100 times more sensitive than an equivalent device based on silicon.
In August 2014, the US based Graphene Frontier announced raising $1.6m to expand the development and manufacturing of their graphene functionalized GFET sensors. Their “six sensors” brand for highly sensitive chemical and biological sensors can be used to diagnose diseases with sensitivity and efficiency unparalleled by traditional sensors.
In September 2014, the German AMO developed a graphene-based photodetector in collaboration with Alcatel Lucent Bell Labs, which is said to be the world’s fastest photodetector.
In November 2013, Nokia’s Cambridge research center developed a humidity sensor based on graphene oxide which is incredibly fast, thin, transparent, flexible and has great response and recovery times. Nokia also filed for a patent in August 2012 for a graphene-based photodetector that is transparent, thin and should ultimately be cheaper than traditional photodetectors.
The latest graphene sensor news:
Karlsruhe Institute Of Technology (KIT) and Technical University of Darmstadt researchers have developed graphene-enhanced sensors for molecules in the gas phase. The functional principle of this new type of sensors is based on sensitive graphene transistors and tailor-made organometallic coatings. This combination enables selective detection of molecules.
As a prototype, the authors of the new study demonstrated a specific ethanol sensor that, unlike currently available commercial sensors, does not react to other alcohols or moisture.
A new Swinburne-led startup, SensFit Technologies, has developed a smart shoe with inbuilt sensors, aiming to improve the quality of life of older people through the early detection of dementia, diabetic ulcers and other physical activity issues.
The unique technology is based on 87 smart sensors bonded with an innovative graphene ink that is embedded in the soles of a shoe. It was developed by startup co-founders Professor Franz Konstantin Fuss, a medical technologies researcher, and Dr. Nishar Hameed, whose research focuses on developing innovative technologies from advanced composite materials.
Graphene Biosensor Evolution: From devices on silicon to lower cost, more flexible biodegradable plastic
This is a guest-post by Jeffrey Draa, CEO at Grolltex - producing graphene biosensors on silicon chips today shows low yields, high cost and restrictive packaging options, limiting scalability and market penetration. But optimization may be here.
Monolayer, electronics grade graphene is propelling advanced biosensing in many key areas. Google the search term, ‘graphene biosensor’, and one will see thousands of next-generation, life enhancing applications being refined in research labs worldwide. This one atom thick material is creating biosensing and detection performance in speed and sensitivity not possible before. Areas such as cancer and virus detection, new drug discovery, genomics, allergens, glucose and many more are starting to see unimagined advances. By far, the number 1 use case for monolayer graphene films today is atomic level biosensing.
A Penn State-led international research team (led by Professor Huanyu “Larry” Cheng at Penn State) recently published two studies that could boost research and development of future motion detection, tactile sensing and health monitoring devices.
There are various substances that can be converted into carbon to create graphene through laser radiation, in a process called laser-induced graphene (LIG). The resulting product can have specific properties determined by the original material. The team set out to test this process and has reached interesting conclusions.
Researchers develop flexible and self-adaptive airflow sensor enabled by a graphene and CNTs membrane
Researchers at the Ningbo Institute of Materials Technology and Engineering (NIMTE) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), led by Prof. Chen Tao, have developed a flexible and self-adaptive airflow sensor enabled by a graphene and CNTs membrane, which is mediated by the reversible microspring effect.
Airflow sensors based on the mechanical deformation mechanism have been drawing increasing attention thanks to their excellent flexibility and sensitivity. However, fabricating highly sensitive and self-adaptive airflow sensors via facile and controllable methods remains a challenge. Recently, inspired by the bats' wing membrane which shows unique airflow sensing capacity, the researchers at NIMTE prepared graphene/single-walled nanotubes (SWNTs)-Ecoflex membrane (GSEM), which can be arbitrarily transferred and subsequently adapt to diverse flat/bend and smooth/rough surface. Relying on the reversible microspring effect, the researchers developed a highly sensitive and self-adaptive GSEM-based airflow sensor.