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Microsensors

G.K. Ananthasuresh
Professor, Mechanical Engineering
Indian Institute of Science
Bangalore, 560012, India
What are sensors?
• Sensors measure something, which we call 
a measurand.
• There are lots of sensors
– Based on the measurands
– Based on the way they measure
Sensors based on the measurand
• Accelerometer
– Measures acceleration
• Gyroscope
– Measures angular rate
• Pressure sensor
– Measures pressure of a fluid
• Viscosity meter
– Measures viscosity of a fluid
• Anemometer
– Measures wind speed
• Bolometer
– Measures radiation
• Blood analyser
– Measures the presence or quantity of a chemical species
• Virus detector
– Detects the presence of a virus
• Etc.
Based on the measurement technique
(e.g., accelerometer)
• An apple and a string
• Capacitive a g
 m
• Piezo‐resistive ma
mg
• Fluid level
ma a
tan     a  g tan 
• Tunnelling current mg g

• Laser interferometry
• Open loop or closed loop
Based on the measurement technique
(e.g., accelerometer)
• A mango and a string
• Capacitive
• Piezo‐resistive
• Fluid level
• Tunnelling current
• Laser interferometry
• Open loop or closed loop
Based on the measurement technique
(e.g., accelerometer)
• A mango and a string
• Capacitive
• Piezo‐resistive
• Fluid level
• Tunnelling current
• Laser interferometry
• Open loop or closed loop
Based on the measurement technique
(e.g., accelerometer)
• An apple and a string
• Capacitive
• Piezo‐resistive
• Fluid level
• Tunnelling current
• Laser interferometry a

• Open loop or closed loop
Based on the measurement technique
(e.g., accelerometer)
• A mango and a string
• Capacitive
• Piezo‐resistive
• Fluid level
• Tunnelling current
• Laser interferometry
• Open loop or closed loop
Based on the measurement technique
(e.g., accelerometer)
• An apple and a string
• Capacitive
• Piezo‐resistive
• Fluid level
• Tunnelling current
• Laser interferometry
• Open loop or closed loop
Sensors are transducers
• Transducers covert one form of energy to 
another form.

Colour change
Shape change
Measurand Output
Sensor State change
Property change
Change in response
etc.
A Sensor’s output is usually electrical.

• Sensors usually covert a measurand to an 


electrical quantity.

Voltage
Current
Measurand Output Resistance
Sensor Capacitance
Inductance
etc.
Quantitative vs. qualitative
• Presence or absence of the measurance
– Is it there or not?
• Qualitative
– High or low or medium…?
• Quantitative
– How much is there precisely?
– We want a number
Characteristics of a sensor
• Sensitivity Magnitude of the 
output signal per unit 
• Resolution
measurand.
• Range
• Full scale output (FSO)
• Linearity
• Hysteresis
• Response time
• Drift
• Bandwidth
Characteristics of a sensor
• Sensitivity Smallest magnitude of 
the measurand that 
• Resolution
can be reliably and 
• Range repetitively detected.
• Full scale output (FSO)
• Linearity
• Hysteresis
• Response time
• Drift
• Bandwidth
Characteristics of a sensor
• Sensitivity The difference 
between the 
• Resolution
maximum and 
• Range minimum values of 
• Full scale output (FSO) the measurand that 
• Linearity can be detected.
• Hysteresis
• Response time
• Drift
• Bandwidth
Characteristics of a sensor
• Sensitivity The difference 
between the 
• Resolution
maximum and 
• Range minimum values of 
• Full scale output (FSO) the output signal. 
• Linearity
• Hysteresis
• Response time
• Drift
• Bandwidth
Characteristics of a sensor
• Sensitivity The extent over which 
the output signal is 
• Resolution
linear with respect to 
• Range the measurand.
• Full scale output (FSO)
• Linearity
• Hysteresis
• Response time
• Drift
• Bandwidth
Characteristics of a sensor
• Sensitivity The difference 
between the output 
• Resolution
signals for the same 
• Range magnitude of the 
• Full scale output (FSO) measurand while the 
• Linearity measurand is 
increasing and 
• Hysteresis
decreasing.
• Response time
• Drift
• Bandwidth
Characteristics of a sensor
• Sensitivity The time lag between 
the instance the 
• Resolution
measurand changes 
• Range and the instance the 
• Full scale output (FSO) output signal changes 
• Linearity completely.
• Hysteresis
• Response time
• Drift
• Bandwidth
Characteristics of a sensor
• Sensitivity The extent of change 
in the output even 
• Resolution
when the measurand 
• Range is constant.
• Full scale output (FSO)
• Linearity
• Hysteresis
• Response time
• Drift
• Bandwidth
Characteristics of a sensor
• Sensitivity The range of 
frequencies of the 
• Resolution
time‐varying 
• Range measurand over 
• Full scale output (FSO) which the sensor 
• Linearity responds reliably. 
• Hysteresis
• Response time
• Drift
• Bandwidth
The same physical element may be 
able to sense multiple things…
Boustraw et al. 1990; 
flow‐rate sensor

Can also 
measure…
Temperature,
Vibration
Sound
Radiation
Chemical species
etc.
Some microsensors
• Capacitive accelerometer
• Piezo‐resistive pressure sensor
• Conductometric gas sensor
• Virus‐detecting micro cantilever
• Fibre‐optic crack sensor
• Portable blood analyser
Micromachined accelerometers: 
two examples
ADXL202E by Analog Devices Sandia National Laboratories

M. Lemkin, M. Ortiz, N. Wongkomet, B. Boser, and J. Smith, ʺA 
3‐axis surface micromachined sigma‐delta accelerometer,ʺ Proc. 
ISSCC ʹ97, pp. 202‐203, 1997.
Measurement of displacement
• There are several other ways of 
detection.
k
b – Capacitve
– Piezoelectric
– Piezoresistive
m – Magnetic
– Optical
x(t ) • Single‐axis or multiple axes?
• Cross‐axis sensitivity?
• Over‐range protection?

• Direct mode
• Force‐feedback mode
A tradeoff in (micromachined) 
accelerometers
mx  bx  kx  ma
At steady state…
k
b x m
kx  ma   Sensitivity
a k
Seismi m But, …
c mass k
x(t ) f resonance  Resonance frequency
Over‐range  m
protection

High sensitivity implies low resonance frequency;
Tradeoff is 
Low resonance frequency implies small operational range. necessary
The effect of damping

m
b  2 km under damping/resonating
k

b  2 km b  2 km Critical damping
over damping

Over‐damping reduces the useful frequency range.
Under‐damping causes peaking that may lead to mechanical failure.

Thus, damping is usually necessary but not too much or too little.
Getting linearity…

Good 
linearity
0 A 0 A 0 A 0 A
 
Vout  d  x d  x V d  x d  x V 2
xd x
V  V for x  d
2 0 A 2 0 A d x 2
d
d d
Capacitance extraction circuit

Chopper stabilization with 
boosted gain and correlated 
double sampling with cross‐
coupled switches. 
This helps reduce 1/f noise and 
offset.

1 part per million resolution
2.3 mV noise
System level simulation
V a m
V s  m
Electronic noise 
4 k d
Mechanical  +Vm and offsets
Brownian noise ε0A/(d+x)
+ C1 Vn
Acceleration 
signal
Mass and 
suspension C2 A demodulator
a+an
ε0A/(d‐x)
‐Vm
x
feedback

PID
Vout
Low‐pass 
filter
A real accelerometer made in IISc
The waveforms show the responses of 
the standard STM accelerometer and 
IISc’s accelerometer under test when a 
0.5 g is applied .
Yellow : Standard accelerometer
Pink : SOIMUMPs accelerometer

Sambuddha Khan
Thejas
Annathasuresh
Bhat
(2009‐2010)
Accelerometer: a summary

Summary
Category Sensor
Purpose Measures the acceleration of the body on which this sensor is mounted.
Key words Proof-mass
Suspension
Principle of operation Converts the displacement caused by the inertial force on the proof-mass to a
voltage signal via change in capacitance between movable and fixed parts.
Application(s) Automotive, aerospace, machine tools, bio-medical, etc.
A commercial high‐resolution accelerometer

QA2000 Qflex accelerometer


From Honeywell.

~3.2"
Piezoresitive pressure sensor
Summary
Category Sensor
Purpose Measures the pressure, typically of gases or liquids.
Key words Piezoresistivity, diaphragm
Principle of operation The external pressure loading causes the deflection, strain, and stress on the
membrane. The strain causes change in the resistance of a material, which is
measured using Wheatstone bridge configuration.
Application(s) Automotive industry, aerospace applications, appliance industry, bio-medical
etc.
Motorola’s pressure sensor
Conductometric gas sensor

Summary
Category Sensor
Purpose It detects and quantifies the sources of a gas, i.e., its concentration
Key words Catalyst, combustible, adsorption, desorption
Principle of operation The principle is that a suitable catalyst, when heated to an appropriate
temperature, either promotes or reduces the oxidation of the combustible
gases. The additional heat released by the oxidation reaction can be detected.
The fundamental sensing mechanism of a gas sensor relies on a change in the
electrical conductivity due to the interaction process between the surface
complexes such as O-,O2-,H+, and OH- reactive chemical species and the gas
molecules to be detected.
Application(s) Environmental monitoring, automotive application and air conditioning in air
planes, spacecrafts and houses and sensor networks, ethanol for breath
analyzers and food control application etc.
Conductometric gas sensors

Nanomaterials Research Inc. gas sensors

Typical materials used: Films of metal oxide like SnO2 and Tio2
Sample fabrication process: Gas sensors are fabricated using the single crystalline SNO2
nanobelts. Nanobelts are synthesized by thermal evaporation of oxide powders under controlled
condition without the presence of a catalyst.
A conductometric gas sensor: 
how doe it work?
Pre adsorption of oxygen on semiconducting material surface.
Adsorption of a specific gas that is to be detected.
Reaction between oxygen and the adsorbed gas.
Change in the conductivity of the resistor element.
Desorption of reacted gas on the surface for re‐use.

Conductivity: It is a property of material that quantifies the material’s ability to conduct


electric current when an electric potential (difference) is applied. It depends on the number
of free electrons available.
Adsorption: Adsoprtion is the process of collection and adherence of ions, atoms, or
molecules on a surface. This is different from absorption, a much more familiar term. In
absorption, the species enter into the bulk, i.e., the volume. On the other hand, in
adsorption, they stay put on the surface.
Desorption: This is the reverse of adsorption; species (ions, atoms, or molecules) or given
out by the surface.
Combustion: It is a technical term for burning. It is a heat-generating chemical reaction
between a fuel (combustible substance) and an oxidizing agent. It can also result in light
(e.g., a flame).
Hand‐held blood analyzer

Abbott Point of Care
http://www.istat.com/

With a few drops of 
blood, under a minute it 
gives blood analysis:  The chip is 
gases, chemistry, cardiac  small but the 
markers, etc. system is 
big.
Main points
• Sensors are transducers.
• Usually the output is electrical.
• Characteristics of sensors
• Miniaturization helps…
– Because the cost, size, and power consumed are 
reduced while improving the performance.
• A lot of commercial microsensors are now 
available.
• The scope for further research and 
development is unlimited.