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Different types of light sensors Light sensor.png
Different types of light sensors

In the broadest definition, a sensor is a device, module, machine, or subsystem whose purpose is to detect events or changes in its environment and send the information to other electronics, frequently a computer processor. A sensor is always used with other electronics.


Sensors are used in everyday objects such as touch-sensitive elevator buttons (tactile sensor) and lamps which dim or brighten by touching the base, besides innumerable applications of which most people are never aware. With advances in micromachinery and easy-to-use microcontroller platforms, the uses of sensors have expanded beyond the traditional fields of temperature, pressure or flow measurement, [1] for example into MARG sensors. Moreover, analog sensors such as potentiometers and force-sensing resistors are still widely used. Applications include manufacturing and machinery, airplanes and aerospace, cars, medicine, robotics and many other aspects of our day-to-day life. There are a wide range of other sensors, measuring chemical & physical properties of materials. A few examples include optical sensors for Refractive index measurement, vibrational sensors for fluid viscosity measurement and electro-chemical sensor for monitoring pH of fluids.

A sensor's sensitivity indicates how much the sensor's output changes when the input quantity being measured changes. For instance, if the mercury in a thermometer moves 1  cm when the temperature changes by 1 °C, the sensitivity is 1 cm/°C (it is basically the slope dy/dx assuming a linear characteristic). Some sensors can also affect what they measure; for instance, a room temperature thermometer inserted into a hot cup of liquid cools the liquid while the liquid heats the thermometer. Sensors are usually designed to have a small effect on what is measured; making the sensor smaller often improves this and may introduce other advantages. [2]

Technological progress allows more and more sensors to be manufactured on a microscopic scale as microsensors using MEMS technology. In most cases, a microsensor reaches a significantly faster measurement time and higher sensitivity compared with macroscopic approaches. [2] [3] Due the increasing demand for rapid, affordable and reliable information in today's world, disposable sensors—low-cost and easy‐to‐use devices for short‐term monitoring or single‐shot measurements—have recently gained growing importance. Using this class of sensors, critical analytical information can be obtained by anyone, anywhere and at any time, without the need for recalibration and worrying about contamination. [4]

Classification of measurement errors

An infrared sensor Infrared Transceiver Circuit.jpg
An infrared sensor

A good sensor obeys the following rules [4] :

Most sensors have a linear transfer function. The sensitivity is then defined as the ratio between the output signal and measured property. For example, if a sensor measures temperature and has a voltage output, the sensitivity is a constant with the units [V/K]. The sensitivity is the slope of the transfer function. Converting the sensor's electrical output (for example V) to the measured units (for example K) requires dividing the electrical output by the slope (or multiplying by its reciprocal). In addition, an offset is frequently added or subtracted. For example, −40 must be added to the output if 0 V output corresponds to −40 C input.

For an analog sensor signal to be processed, or used in digital equipment, it needs to be converted to a digital signal, using an analog-to-digital converter.

Sensor deviations

Since sensors cannot replicate an ideal transfer function, several types of deviations can occur which limit sensor accuracy:

All these deviations can be classified as systematic errors or random errors. Systematic errors can sometimes be compensated for by means of some kind of calibration strategy. Noise is a random error that can be reduced by signal processing, such as filtering, usually at the expense of the dynamic behavior of the sensor.


The resolution of a sensor is the smallest change it can detect in the quantity that it is measuring. The resolution of a sensor with a digital output is usually the resolution of the digital output. The resolution is related to the precision with which the measurement is made, but they are not the same thing. A sensor's accuracy may be considerably worse than its resolution.

Chemical sensor

A chemical sensor is a self-contained analytical device that can provide information about the chemical composition of its environment, that is, a liquid or a gas phase. [5] The information is provided in the form of a measurable physical signal that is correlated with the concentration of a certain chemical species (termed as analyte). Two main steps are involved in the functioning of a chemical sensor, namely, recognition and transduction. In the recognition step, analyte molecules interact selectively with receptor molecules or sites included in the structure of the recognition element of the sensor. Consequently, a characteristic physical parameter varies and this variation is reported by means of an integrated transducer that generates the output signal. A chemical sensor based on recognition material of biological nature is a biosensor. However, as synthetic biomimetic materials are going to substitute to some extent recognition biomaterials, a sharp distinction between a biosensor and a standard chemical sensor is superfluous. Typical biomimetic materials used in sensor development are molecularly imprinted polymers and aptamers.


In biomedicine and biotechnology, sensors which detect analytes thanks to a biological component, such as cells, protein, nucleic acid or biomimetic polymers, are called biosensors. Whereas a non-biological sensor, even organic (carbon chemistry), for biological analytes is referred to as sensor or nanosensor. This terminology applies for both in-vitro and in vivo applications. The encapsulation of the biological component in biosensors, presents a slightly different problem that ordinary sensors; this can either be done by means of a semipermeable barrier, such as a dialysis membrane or a hydrogel, or a 3D polymer matrix, which either physically constrains the sensing macromolecule or chemically constrains the macromolecule by bounding it to the scaffold.

MOS sensors

Metal-oxide-semiconductor (MOS) technology originates from the MOSFET (MOS field-effect transistor, or MOS transistor) invented by Mohamed M. Atalla and Dawon Kahng in 1959, and demonstrated in 1960. [6] MOSFET sensors (MOS sensors) were later developed, and they have since been widely used to measure physical, chemical, biological and environmental parameters. [7]

Biochemical sensors

A number of MOSFET sensors have been developed, for measuring physical, chemical, biological and environmental parameters. [7] The earliest MOSFET sensors include the open-gate field-effect transistor (OGFET) introduced by Johannessen in 1970, [7] the ion-sensitive field-effect transistor (ISFET) invented by Piet Bergveld in 1970, [8] the adsorption FET (ADFET) patented by P.F. Cox in 1974, and a hydrogen-sensitive MOSFET demonstrated by I. Lundstrom, M.S. Shivaraman, C.S. Svenson and L. Lundkvist in 1975. [7] The ISFET is a special type of MOSFET with a gate at a certain distance, [7] and where the metal gate is replaced by an ion-sensitive membrane, electrolyte solution and reference electrode. [9] The ISFET is widely used in biomedical applications, such as the detection of DNA hybridization, biomarker detection from blood, antibody detection, glucose measurement, pH sensing, and genetic technology. [9]

By the mid-1980s, numerous other MOSFET sensors had been developed, including the gas sensor FET (GASFET), surface accessible FET (SAFET), charge flow transistor (CFT), pressure sensor FET (PRESSFET), chemical field-effect transistor (ChemFET), reference ISFET (REFET), biosensor FET (BioFET), enzyme-modified FET (ENFET) and immunologically modified FET (IMFET). [7] By the early 2000s, BioFET types such as the DNA field-effect transistor (DNAFET), gene-modified FET (GenFET) and cell-potential BioFET (CPFET) had been developed. [9]

Image sensors

MOS technology is the basis for modern image sensors, including the charge-coupled device (CCD) and the CMOS active-pixel sensor (CMOS sensor), used in digital imaging and digital cameras. [10] Willard Boyle and George E. Smith developed the CCD in 1969. While researching the MOS process, they realized that an electric charge was the analogy of the magnetic bubble and that it could be stored on a tiny MOS capacitor. As it was fairly straighforward to fabricate a series of MOS capacitors in a row, they connected a suitable voltage to them so that the charge could be stepped along from one to the next. [10] The CCD is a semiconductor circuit that was later used in the first digital video cameras for television broadcasting. [11]

The MOS active-pixel sensor (APS) was developed by Tsutomu Nakamura at Olympus in 1985. [12] The CMOS active-pixel sensor was later developed by Eric Fossum and his team in the early 1990s. [13]

MOS image sensors are widely used in optical mouse technology. The first optical mouse, invented by Richard F. Lyon at Xerox in 1980, used a 5 µm NMOS sensor chip. [14] [15] Since the first commercial optical mouse, the IntelliMouse introduced in 1999, most optical mouse devices use CMOS sensors. [16]

Monitoring sensors

Lidar sensor on iPad Pro LiDAR Scanner and Back Camera of iPad Pro 2020 - 3.jpg
Lidar sensor on iPad Pro

MOS monitoring sensors are used for house monitoring, office and agriculture monitoring, traffic monitoring (including car speed, traffic jams, and traffic accidents), weather monitoring (such as for rain, wind, lightning and storms), defense monitoring, and monitoring temperature, humidity, air pollution, fire, health, security and lighting. [18] MOS gas detector sensors are used to detect carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, ammonia, and other gas substances. [19] Other MOS sensors include intelligent sensors [20] and wireless sensor network (WSN) technology. [21]

See also

Related Research Articles

Transistor Solid-state electrically operated switch also used as an amplifier

A transistor is a semiconductor device used to amplify or switch electronic signals and electrical power. It is composed of semiconductor material usually with at least three terminals for connection to an external circuit. A voltage or current applied to one pair of the transistor's terminals controls the current through another pair of terminals. Because the controlled (output) power can be higher than the controlling (input) power, a transistor can amplify a signal. Today, some transistors are packaged individually, but many more are found embedded in integrated circuits.

MOSFET Transistor used for amplifying or switching electronic signals.

The metal–oxide–semiconductor field-effect transistor, also known as the metal–oxide–silicon transistor, is a type of insulated-gate field-effect transistor (IGFET) that is fabricated by the controlled oxidation of a semiconductor, typically silicon. The voltage of the covered gate determines the electrical conductivity of the device; this ability to change conductivity with the amount of applied voltage can be a used for scientific purposes amplifying or switching electronic signals.

Photodiode Converts light into current

A photodiode is a semiconductor device that converts light into an electrical current. The current is generated when photons are absorbed in the photodiode. Photodiodes may contain optical filters, built-in lenses, and may have large or small surface areas. Photodiodes usually have a slower response time as their surface area increases. The common, traditional solar cell used to generate electric solar power is a large area photodiode.

N-type metal-oxide-semiconductor logic uses n-type (-) MOSFETs to implement logic gates and other digital circuits. These nMOS transistors operate by creating an inversion layer in a p-type transistor body. This inversion layer, called the n-channel, can conduct electrons between n-type "source" and "drain" terminals. The n-channel is created by applying voltage to the third terminal, called the gate. Like other MOSFETs, nMOS transistors have four modes of operation: cut-off, triode, saturation, and velocity saturation.

CMOS Technology for constructing integrated circuits

Complementary metal–oxide–semiconductor (CMOS), also known as complementary-symmetry metal–oxide–semiconductor (COS-MOS), is a type of metal–oxide–semiconductor field-effect transistor (MOSFET) fabrication process that uses complementary and symmetrical pairs of p-type and n-type MOSFETs for logic functions. CMOS technology is used for constructing integrated circuit (IC) chips, including microprocessors, microcontrollers, memory chips, and other digital logic circuits, and replaced earlier transistor-transistor logic (TTL) technology.

A biosensor is an analytical device, used for the detection of a chemical substance, that combines a biological component with a physicochemical detector. The sensitive biological element, e.g. tissue, microorganisms, organelles, cell receptors, enzymes, antibodies, nucleic acids, etc., is a biologically derived material or biomimetic component that interacts with, binds with, or recognizes the analyte under study. The biologically sensitive elements can also be created by biological engineering. The transducer or the detector element, which transforms one signal into another one, works in a physicochemical way: optical, piezoelectric, electrochemical, electrochemiluminescence etc., resulting from the interaction of the analyte with the biological element, to easily measure and quantify. The biosensor reader device connects with the associated electronics or signal processors that are primarily responsible for the display of the results in a user-friendly way. This sometimes accounts for the most expensive part of the sensor device, however it is possible to generate a user friendly display that includes transducer and sensitive element. The readers are usually custom-designed and manufactured to suit the different working principles of biosensors.

A mixed-signal integrated circuit is any integrated circuit that has both analog circuits and digital circuits on a single semiconductor die. In real-life applications mixed-signal designs are everywhere, for example, smart mobile phones. Mixed-signal ICs also process both analog and digital signals together. For example, an analog-to-digital converter is a mixed-signal circuit. Mixed-signal circuits or systems are typically cost-effective solutions for building any modern consumer electronics applications.

Electronic component basic discrete device or physical entity in an electronic system used to affect electrons or their associated fields

An electronic component is any basic discrete device or physical entity in an electronic system used to affect electrons or their associated fields. Electronic components are mostly industrial products, available in a singular form and are not to be confused with electrical elements, which are conceptual abstractions representing idealized electronic components.


An ion-sensitive field-effect transistor (ISFET) is a field-effect transistor used for measuring ion concentrations in solution; when the ion concentration (such as H+, see pH scale) changes, the current through the transistor will change accordingly. Here, the solution is used as the gate electrode. A voltage between substrate and oxide surfaces arises due to an ion sheath. It is a special type of MOSFET (metal-oxide-semiconductor field-effect transistor), and shares the same basic structure, but with the metal gate replaced by an ion-sensitive membrane, electrolyte solution and reference electrode. Invented in 1970, the ISFET was the first biosensor FET (BioFET).

A ChemFET is a chemically-sensitive field-effect transistor, that is a field-effect transistor used as a sensor for measuring chemical concentrations in solution. When the target analyte concentration changes, the current through the transistor will change accordingly. Here, the analyte solution separates the source and gate electrodes. A concentration gradient between the solution and the gate electrode arises due to a semi-permeable membrane on the FET surface containing receptor moieties that preferentially bind the target analyte. This concentration gradient of charged analyte ions creates a chemical potential between the source and gate, which is in turn measured by the FET.

Image sensor Device that converts an optical image into an electronic signal

An image sensor or imager is a sensor that detects and conveys information used to make an image. It does so by converting the variable attenuation of light waves into signals, small bursts of current that convey the information. The waves can be light or other electromagnetic radiation. Image sensors are used in electronic imaging devices of both analog and digital types, which include digital cameras, camera modules, camera phones, optical mouse devices, medical imaging equipment, night vision equipment such as thermal imaging devices, radar, sonar, and others. As technology changes, electronic and digital imaging tends to replace chemical and analog imaging.

Active-pixel sensor image sensor consisting of an integrated circuit

An active-pixel sensor (APS) is an image sensor where each pixel sensor unit cell has a photodetector and one or more active transistors. In a metal–oxide–semiconductor (MOS) active-pixel sensor, MOS field-effect transistors (MOSFETs) are used as amplifiers. There are different types of APS, including the early NMOS APS and the much more common complementary MOS (CMOS) APS, also known as the CMOS sensor, which is widely used in digital camera technologies such as cell phone cameras, web cameras, most modern digital pocket cameras, most digital single-lens reflex cameras (DSLRs), and mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras (MILCs). CMOS sensors emerged as an alternative to charge-coupled device (CCD) image sensors and eventually outsold them by the mid-2000s.

The floating-gate MOSFET (FGMOS), also known as a floating-gate transistor, is a type of MOSFET where the gate is electrically isolated, creating a floating node in DC, and a number of secondary gates or inputs are deposited above the floating gate (FG) and are electrically isolated from it. These inputs are only capacitively connected to the FG. Since the FG is completely surrounded by highly resistive material, the charge contained in it remains unchanged for long periods of time. Usually Fowler-Nordheim tunneling and hot-carrier injection mechanisms are used to modify the amount of charge stored in the FG.

PMOS logic p-type MOSFETs to implement logic gates

P-type metal-oxide-semiconductor logic uses p-channel (+) metal-oxide-semiconductor field effect transistors (MOSFETs) to implement logic gates and other digital circuits. PMOS transistors operate by creating an inversion layer in an n-type transistor body. This inversion layer, called the p-channel, can conduct holes between p-type "source" and "drain" terminals.

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to electronics:

A biotransducer is the recognition-transduction component of a biosensor system. It consists of two intimately coupled parts; a bio-recognition layer and a physicochemical transducer, which acting together converts a biochemical signal to an electronic or optical signal. The bio-recognition layer typically contains an enzyme or another binding protein such as antibody. However, oligonucleotide sequences, sub-cellular fragments such as organelles and receptor carrying fragments, single whole cells, small numbers of cells on synthetic scaffolds, or thin slices of animal or plant tissues, may also comprise the bio-recognition layer. It gives the biosensor selectivity and specificity. The physicochemical transducer is typically in intimate and controlled contact with the recognition layer. As a result of the presence and biochemical action of the analyte, a physico-chemical change is produced within the biorecognition layer that is measured by the physicochemical transducer producing a signal that is proportionate to the concentration of the analyte. The physicochemical transducer may be electrochemical, optical, electronic, gravimetric, pyroelectric or piezoelectric. Based on the type of biotransducer, biosensors can be classified as shown to the right.

Field-effect transistor transistor that uses an electric field to control its electrical behaviour

The field-effect transistor (FET) is a type of transistor which uses an electric field to control the flow of current. FETs are devices with three terminals: source, gate, and drain. FETs control the flow of current by the application of a voltage to the gate, which in turn alters the conductivity between the drain and source.


A field-effect transistor-based biosensor, also known as a biosensor field-effect transistor, field-effect biosensor (FEB), or biosensor MOSFET, is a field-effect transistor that is gated by changes in the surface potential induced by the binding of molecules. When charged molecules, such as biomolecules, bind to the FET gate, which is usually a dielectric material, they can change the charge distribution of the underlying semiconductor material resulting in a change in conductance of the FET channel. A Bio-FET consists of two main compartments: one is the biological recognition element and the other is the field-effect transistor. The BioFET structure is largely based on the ion-sensitive field-effect transistor (ISFET), a type of metal-oxide-semiconductor field-effect transistor (MOSFET) where the metal gate is replaced by an ion-sensitive membrane, electrolyte solution and reference electrode.

Piet Bergveld is a Dutch electrical engineer. He is the emeritus professor of biosensors at the University of Twente. He is the inventor of the ion-sensitive field-effect transistor (ISFET) sensor. Bergveld's work has focused on electrical engineering and biomedical technology.

MOSFET applications Wikimedia list article

The metal–oxide–semiconductor field-effect transistor (MOSFET, MOS-FET, or MOS FET), also known as the metal–oxide–silicon transistor (MOS transistor, or MOS), is a type of insulated-gate field-effect transistor (IGFET) that is fabricated by the controlled oxidation of a semiconductor, typically silicon. The voltage of the covered gate determines the electrical conductivity of the device; this ability to change conductivity with the amount of applied voltage can be used for amplifying or switching electronic signals. The MOSFET was invented by Egyptian engineer Mohamed M. Atalla and Korean engineer Dawon Kahng at Bell Labs in 1959. It is the basic building block of modern electronics, and the most frequently manufactured device in history, with an estimated total of 13 sextillion (1.3 × 1022) MOSFETs manufactured between 1960 and 2018.


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Further reading