Article last updated on: Jan 25, 2019

What is a sensor?

A sensor is a device that detects events that occur in the physical environment (like light, heat, motion, moisture, pressure, and more), and responds with an output, usually an electrical, mechanical or optical signal. The household mercury thermometer is a simple example of a sensor - it detects temperature and reacts with a measurable expansion of liquid. Sensors are everywhere - they can be found in everyday applications like touch-sensitive elevator buttons and lamp dimmer surfaces that respond to touch, but there are also many kinds of sensors that go unnoticed by most - like sensors that are used in medicine, robotics, aerospace and more.

Traditional kinds of sensors include temperature, pressure (thermistors, thermocouples, and more), moisture, flow (electromagnetic, positional displacement and more), movement and proximity (capacitive, photoelectric, ultrasonic and more), though innumerable other versions exist. sensors are divided into two groups: active and passive sensors. Active sensors (such as photoconductive cells or light detection sensors) require a power supply while passive ones (radiometers, film photography) do not.

Where can sensors be found?

Sensors are used in numerous applications, and can roughly be arranged in groups by forms of use:

  • Accelerometers: Micro Electro Mechanical technology based sensors, used mainly in mobile devices, medicine for patient monitoring (like pacemakers) and vehicular systems.
  • Biosensors: electrochemical technology based sensors, used for food and water testing, medical devices, fitness tracker and wristbands (that measure, for example, blood oxygen levels and heart rate) and military uses (biological warfare and more).
  • Image sensors: CMOS (Complementary Metal-Oxide Semiconductor) based sensors, used in consumer electronics, biometrics, traffic and security surveillance and PC imaging.
  • Motion Detectors: sensors which can be Infrared, Ultrasonic or Microwave/Radar technology. They are used in video games, security detection and light activation.

What is graphene?

Graphene is a two-dimensional material made of carbon atoms, often dubbed “miracle material” for its outstanding characteristics. It is 200 times stronger than steel at one atom thick, as well as the world’s most conductive material. It is so dense that the smallest atom of Helium cannot pass through it, but is also lightweight and transparent. Since its isolation in 2004, researchers and companies alike are fervently studying graphene, which is set to revolutionize various markets and produce improved processes, better performing components and new products.

Graphene and sensors

Graphene and sensors are a natural combination, as graphene’s large surface-to-volume ratio, unique optical properties, excellent electrical conductivity, high carrier mobility and density, high thermal conductivity and many other attributes can be greatly beneficial for sensor functions. The large surface area of graphene is able to enhance the surface loading of desired biomolecules, and excellent conductivity and small band gap can be beneficial for conducting electrons between biomolecules and the electrode surface.

Graphene-based chemical sensor photo



Graphene is thought to become especially widespread in biosensors and diagnostics. The large surface area of graphene can enhance the surface loading of desired biomolecules, and excellent conductivity and small band gap can be beneficial for conducting electrons between biomolecules and the electrode surface. Biosensors can be used, among other things, for the detection of a range of analytes like glucose, glutamate, cholesterol, hemoglobin and more. Graphene also has significant potential for enabling the development of electrochemical biosensors, based on direct electron transfer between the enzyme and the electrode surface.

Graphene will enable sensors that are smaller and lighter - providing endless design possibilities. They will also be more sensitive and able to detect smaller changes in matter, work more quickly and eventually even be less expensive than traditional sensors. Some graphene-based sensor designs contain a Field Effect Transistor (FET) with a graphene channel. Upon detection of the targeted analyte’s binding, the current through the transistor changes, which sends a signal that can be analyzed to determine several variables.

Graphene-based nanoelectronic devices have also been researched for use in DNA sensors (for detecting nucleobases and nucleotides), Gas sensors (for detection of different gases), PH sensors, environmental contamination sensors, strain and pressure sensors, and more.

Commercial activities in the field of graphene sensors

In June 2015, A collaboration between Bosch, the Germany-based engineering giant, and scientists at the Max-Planck Institute for Solid State Research yielded a graphene-based magnetic sensor 100 times more sensitive than an equivalent device based on silicon.

In August 2014, the US based Graphene Frontier announced raising $1.6m to expand the development and manufacturing of their graphene functionalized GFET sensors. Their “six sensors” brand for highly sensitive chemical and biological sensors can be used to diagnose diseases with sensitivity and efficiency unparalleled by traditional sensors.

Graphene Frontiers G-FET sensorG-FET Six-Sensors

In September 2014, the German AMO developed a graphene-based photodetector in collaboration with Alcatel Lucent Bell Labs, which is said to be the world’s fastest photodetector.

In November 2013, Nokia’s Cambridge research center developed a humidity sensor based on graphene oxide which is incredibly fast, thin, transparent, flexible and has great response and recovery times. Nokia also filed for a patent in August 2012 for a graphene-based photodetector that is transparent, thin and should ultimately be cheaper than traditional photodetectors.

The latest graphene sensor news:

New Graphene Flagship "Spearhead Projects" get €92 million in funding

The Graphene Flagship has announced the launch of eleven new "Spearhead Projects", each developed to take graphene-enabled prototypes to commercial applications. Now, the Graphene Flagship has committed €45 million to invest in eleven commercialization projects led by key industrial partners in Europe such as Airbus, Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles, Lufthansa Technik, Siemens, and ABB. Notably, the project partners will also co-fund the projects with a further combined contribution of €47 million, showing their interest in the development of graphene-enabled products.

The newly launched projects combine the results of the Graphene Flagship's innovative scientific research with the ambitions of commercial partners for marketable applications. This initiative will bring the number of companies involved in the Graphene Flagship to 78, which makes up nearly half of the whole consortium.

NanoEDGE: German-Israeli collaboration to develop wearable electronics for mental disorder diagnosis and functional restoration

The NanoEDGE BMBF-Project, coordinated by the Fraunhofer Institute for Biomedical Engineering IBMT, aims at the development of a graphene-based ink for inkjet printing and a scalable printing process as well as a resource-efficient process chain for the production of electrodes for direct skin contact.

Printed test electrodes in the NanoEDGE project imagePrinted test electrodes in the NanoEDGE project

The development of a graphene-based ink is based on a commercial graphene ink. Ink modification was necessary to make it printable. Ethanol is added to avoid bubbles and to decrease the surface tension of the ink. Carbon nanoparticles are added to improve abrasion resistance of printed structures. A surfactant is added to improve printability and to increase the conductivity and surface smoothness of printed structures.

Archer Materials’ graphene ink formulations printed and tested with prototype device

Archer Materials (formerly Archer Exploration) has reported progressing its graphene-based biosensor technology development by building a first-phase prototype device to test the printing and performance of graphene inks.

The prototype biosensor technology by Archer Materials imageThe prototype biosensor technology built at the University of Adelaide ARC Graphene Hub

Graphene ink formulations produced from the inventory of Carbon Allotropes, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Archer, have reportedly been successfully printed and tested in a prototype device for biosensing.

Graphene-based nanosensor detects microscopic contaminants in water

Researchers from Iowa State University’s (ISU) Department of Mechanical Engineering, led by Dr. Jonathan Claussen, have developed a graphene-enhanced sensor that can detect organophosphates at levels 40 times smaller than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommendations. Organophosphates are certain classes of insecticides used on crops throughout the world to kill insects.

NIFA-funded nanosensor connected to a portable potentiostat to monitor pesticides in a sample fluid image

Claussen and his team have developed Salt Impregnated Inkjet Maskless Lithography (SIIML), which uses an inkjet printer to create inexpensive graphene circuits with high electrical conductivity. They add salts to the ink, which is later washed away to leave microsized divots or craters in the surface. This textured printed graphene surface is able to bind with pesticide-sensing enzymes to increase sensitivity during pesticide biosensing.

Graphene and gold sensing platform may help fight neurological disorders

A Rutgers University-led team has created what it is calling a "better biosensor technology that may help lead to safe stem cell therapies for treating Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases and other neurological disorders".

Biosensor consists of an array of ultrathin graphene layers and gold structures image

The development, which is based on a graphene and gold platform and high-tech imaging system, monitors the progress of stem cells by detecting genetic material (RNA) involved in turning such cells into brain cells (neurons).

Versarien - Think you know graphene? Think again! Versarien - Think you know graphene? Think again!