Researchers at The University of Manchester have fabricated highly sensitive miniaturized pressure sensors using graphene membranes.

The team reported that the new sensor was made possible by developing a way to effectively float a graphene membrane mere nanometers above a silicon chip. When pressure moves this membrane closer to the surface of the chip, the resulting change in capacitance is measured to read out the pressure change. By fabricating thousands of such floating membranes next to each other, a device can be made of exceptionally high sensitivity to pressure changes.

The team explained that “despite its amazing strength, a single atomic layer thin graphene membrane is impossible to grow and handle without causing cracks and pin-holes, which would lead to the failure of the device... In order to overcome this, we use this graphene membrane in conjunction with a very thin polymer support layer, which allows us to produce thousands of floating graphene membranes closely packed into a small area, resulting in this highest performance pressure sensor.”

The scientists involved have established a spin-out company, Atomic Mechanics, with a view of commercializing this technology. They said: “our sensor can find a range of applications, such as in engines, industrial plants and even household Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, which offers us a large market. The technology can also be used to develop next-generation touch screens for consumer electronics and in new types of medical devices.”

In October 2017, researchers in the UK (the University of Manchester) and Italy (the University of Pisa) developed an inkjet-printed graphene strain gauge sensor on paper.

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