Editorial Feature

Nanotech Sensors - Is Smaller Always Better?

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In a world of advanced data manipulation and analysis methods, the ability for sensors to create data points with high precision and accuracy has never been more important. Moreover, sensors are now required in more remote sensing applications and environments where they need to be small, such as inside the body.

Nanotech Sensors

Nanotech sensors, in which the active sensing material is an ultra-thin nanomaterial, have gained traction in recent years and are now commercially viable. While their small size is a major advantage, nanotech sensors also possess high sensitivities. So, is smaller always better?

Sensors which are smaller and more efficient are going to be better in almost all circumstances. The only exception being when they need to be robust enough to handle high loads, although a lot of nanomaterials can be used in high pressure and high strain environments as most are inherently strong, and some can flex to accommodate the strain. Let us look at a few examples to show why smaller is indeed better.

Sensors in Everyday Electronics

Manufacturers are always looking to make electronic devices smaller while maintaining efficiency. A wide range of sensors are used in everyday electronics, so the ability for nanotech sensors to reduce the size of the device while keeping the same level of sensor efficiency (if not greater) is ideal. This extends to the vast amount of portable and handheld electronics, everything from phones to handheld sensors and monitoring equipment, which can be made smaller and more efficient.

Another example of where nanotech sensors show promise due to their small size is in medical applications. While there are many sensors that can measure and image the body from the outside, the next stage is to measure from the inside. Nanotech sensors are small and sensitive enough to be used internally to measure various aspects of the body. These specific medical applications are not possible with other types of sensor and have only opened up due the emergence of nanotech sensors.

Remote Sensing Applications

Remote sensing applications, such as environmental monitoring, need to withstand changes in their localized environment, from cold temperatures, humidity, temperature fluctuations and even potential impacts with debris. Not only do smaller sensors mean these events have less of an effect, the nanomaterials used in sensors are inherently stable to harsh conditions, so the sensors will last longer and it is less likely that the data will be affected by the elements. Moreover, a high sensitivity in these environments is key to ensuring the obtained data is accurate.

Other Applications of Nanotech Sensors

The size of nanotech sensors is also ideal for many chemical processing environments, as it enables their use in pipelines and reaction vessels (in-line sensors); a more sensitive sensing mechanism. Moreover, most nanotech sensors are stable in the harsh chemical environments found in process streams. This is another reason they can be used in-line as many sensors must be used out-of-line (located outside of the pipes/reaction chambers) and use electromagnetic waves to provide the detection.

Out-of-line sensors are much more inaccurate than in-line sensors, so the small size and stability of nanotech sensors can provide more accurate measurements which is important in process streams where large volumes of chemicals are being mixed, synthesized and transported.

While the size of nanotech sensors is the main reason for their usage in many applications, their high stability to temperature, pressure, stress/strain, chemical environments, humidity and other environmental factors make them more beneficial than many non-nanomaterial sensors, especially when some sensors are used in harsh environments.

High Sensitivity

Another key property of nanotech sensors is their high sensitivity. Their sensitivity can be much higher than non-nanomaterial sensors when highly conductive nanomaterials are used. The highly conductive nanosheets used in nanotech sensors will change their conductivity under the slightest response, be it a slight flex, absorption of a molecule or other sensing mechanism, and this response can then be detected by the components in the sensor. As small responses can be detected (sometimes a few molecules), the sensitivity of these sensors can be very high.

So, for most applications and sensing environments, smaller is better when the sensor uses nanomaterials as the active sensing material.

Sources and Further Reading

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the author expressed in their private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of AZoM.com Limited T/A AZoNetwork the owner and operator of this website. This disclaimer forms part of the Terms and conditions of use of this website.

Liam Critchley

Written by

Liam Critchley

Liam Critchley is a writer and journalist who specializes in Chemistry and Nanotechnology, with a MChem in Chemistry and Nanotechnology and M.Sc. Research in Chemical Engineering.

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