Sensors and Nanosensors: an Overview

Topics Covered

What are Sensors and What are their Industry Applications?

What Type of Things Do Sensors Measure?

How Can Nanotechnology Improve the Performance of Sensors?

What Will Nanosensors Do in the Future?

What are Sensors and What are their Industry Applications?

Sensors pervade many aspects of modern living. They are built into many consumer electronic devices, cars, medical devices, security and safety devices, and systems for monitoring pollution and environmental conditions. Many applications demand miniaturisation to reduce power consumption for integration into portable devices. Affordable mass production is also a prerequisite for sensors for consumer products, and for disposable devices such as sensors for medical diagnostics and pollution monitoring. Sensors support applications across the economy - industrial processes, and those in construction, extractive industries, agriculture, health care and so on - and can be incorporated into new or existing products. 

What Type of Things Do Sensors Measure?

Sensors can model various parameters: physical parameters such as temperature, displacement, acceleration, flow and so on; and chemical and biochemical parameters, such as concentrations of gases, ions or molecules, and molecular interactions) 

How Can Nanotechnology Improve the Performance of Sensors?

The application of nanotechnology to sensors should allow improvements in functionality. In particular, new biosensor technology combined with micro and nanofabrication technology can deliver a huge range of applications. They should also lead to much decreased size, enabling the integration of ‘nanosensors’ into many other devices. 

What Will Nanosensors Do in the Future?

We can also expect to see actuators that control movement on the nanoscale. Sensor/actuator combinations will deliver ‘smart’ and precise functions in products and processes. For example, nanofabrication and inspection tools require sensors and actuator systems that can position objects with nanometre accuracy. In this way, sensors and actuators constitute another enabling technology.     

Primary author: Dr John Taylor, OBE, FRS, FEng, Director-General of the Research Councils.

Source: Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Report entitled ‘New Dimensions for Manufacturing: A UK Strategy for Nanotechnology’, published in June 2002.

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