Europeans have made huge strides in biosensing and environmental research over the years, but a group of scientists is taking things even further. Through the EU-backed, three-year NEMSIC (Nano-electro-mechanical-system-integrated-circuits) project, these scientists aim to get the world's smallest, high-performance and low-power sensor in silicon off the ground. This latest development, they say, will be applied in biosensing and environmental monitoring.
Professor Hiroshi Mizuta from the University of Southampton's School of Electronics and Computer Science (ECS), which is participating in the project, says NEMSIC targets the development and launch of the smallest sensor on the international market. Interesting is the fact that not only will the sensor be very sensitive, but it will consume little power, the research team says. Its successful launch will be made possible through the co-integration of single-electron transistors (SETs) and nano-electro-mechanical systems (NEMS) on a common silicon technology platform.
Professor Mizuta explains that all eyes are on the consumption of power because devices use current regardless whether they're running or not. 'The single-electron transistor combined with the NEM device technology reduces power consumption at both ON and OFF states of the sensor,' Professor Mizuta comments. The ability to establish a full 'sleep' with the NEM switch when it is off will help 'stand-by' power drop to zero, he adds.
Part of the working process for Professor Mizuta and his team is to develop the single-electron transistor with a suspended silicon nanobridge that will have the capacity to detect biological and chemical molecules. 'This is the first time that anyone has combined these two nanotechnologies to develop a smart sensor,' Professor Mizuta explains.
The research team will develop the sensing devices to the nanoscale to ensure their success, particularly in being 'able to detect either single-charge transfer and/or change in masses caused by a small amount of chemical and biological molecules electrically', Professor Mizuta says. An innovative electron beam lithography machine, located at the ECS Mountbatten building at the University of Southampton, will be used to produce these devices.
What helped fuel the researchers' efforts to find another approach in sensor detection was the fact that the complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) approach is both conventional and restrictive, the ECS scientist contends.
The NEMSIC consortium is composed of researchers from Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Romania, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Professor Adrian Ionescu of the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland is coordinating the project.
NEMSIC is funded under the 'Information and communication technologies' thematic area of the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7).