Article last updated on: Jan 25, 2019

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-based chemical sensor photo

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.

Graphene Frontiers G-FET sensorG-FET Six-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:

Graphene biosensor for early lung cancer diagnosis

Researchers from the University of Exeter have developed a new technique that could create a highly sensitive graphene biosensor with the capability to detect molecules of the most common lung cancer biomarkers.

Graphene biosensor for early lung cancer diagnosis image

The new biosensor design could revolutionize existing electronic nose (e-nose) devices, that identify specific components of a specific vapor mixture—like a person's breath—and analyze its chemical make-up to identify the cause.

Nanomedical Diagnostics announces name change to Cardea

Nanomedical Diagnostics logoNanomedical Diagnostics, a leading manufacturer of graphene biosensors, has announced its corporate name change to Cardea.

The new name aims to reflect a significant expansion of the company's commercial activities, from primarily serving the pharmaceutical industry with ultra sensitive biosensor research tools, to opening its breakthrough biosensor platform for a broad set of healthcare and life science partners.

Graphenea, AMO and Emberion to take part in a bringing graphene short-wave infrared (SWIR) detectors to market

Graphenea, AMO and Emberion have been approved a European Innovation Council Fast Track to Innovation (FTI) project to help bring to market the G-IMAGER, a graphene imager based on graphene-on-wafer technology. The G-Imager is a short-wave infrared (SWIR) detector for applications in semiconductor inspection, sorting systems, spectroscopy hyperspectral imaging and surveillance.

Graphenea, AMO and Emberion to take part in a bringing graphene short-wave infrared (SWIR) detectors to market image

A major obstacle for wider use of SWIR imaging products is the high cost of SWIR detectors, which are currently primarily manufactured with InGaAs technology. The high price is related to the complex manufacturing of InGaAs that also prevents increase of the detector production volumes. Now Graphenea Semiconductor SL, Emberion Oy, and AMO GmbH are tasked with constructing and marketing the G-Imager which will bring the core price down significantly, allowing market volumes to grow substantially.

Haydale signs supply agreement for piezoresistive inks

Haydale logoHaydale has announced that it has signed a supply agreement to provide 76kg of its propriety piezoresistive ink to HP1 Technologies (HP1T) over an 18-month period. The value of the Supply Agreement was not disclosed.

HP1T creates bespoke flexible, printed, functionalized nano carbon-based sensor systems that can measure and collect high quality impact and pressure data. This newly signed supply agreement will see Haydale become HP1T's single supplier of functionalized nano carbon inks.

Emberion to present graphene-based VIS-SWIR linear array at Photonics West in San Francisco

Finland-based Emberion recently announced its plan to present new products for visible light to shortwave infrared (VIS-SWIR) detection at SPIE Photonics West in San Francisco 5-7.2.2019. The showcased linear array is said to have been specifically designed for spectroscopy and use graphene as a charge transducing layer.

Emberion graphene sensors image

Emberion introduces a cost-competitive 512 × 1 pixel VIS-SWIR linear array sensor for visible to shortwave infrared spectral range. The sensor provides superior and consistent responsivity with very low noise over the broad (400 – 1800 nm) spectral range. The sensor comprises an array of 25 × 500 µm2 pixels monolithically built on a tailor-made CMOS readout integrated circuit. The ROIC contains an analog front-end, performs analog-to-digital conversion and signal pre-processing, implements an electric shutter, and provides digital data output with up to 16 bits resolution.

Versarien - Think you know graphene? Think again! Versarien - Think you know graphene? Think again!