Micro-electro-mechanically Tunable Nano-photonic Grating Displacement Sensor

Background Sensors represent a billion-dollar market characterized by eleven product segments. Two of the sensor product segments are: 1. Proximity and displacement sensors and 2. Force and load sensors. (Global Industry Analysts, 2007) Types of proximity and displacement sensors include: inductive and photoelectric sensors; capacitive proximity sensors; photoelectric sensors; ultrasonic proximity sensors. Types of force and load sensors include force sensors and accelerometers.

From an end-use analysis, this novel technology applies to many widespread emerging applications including medical and environmental applications. Sensors of this type are utilized in many different industries, such as the automotive industry. This invention will find a niche within the competitive landscape of precision metrology tools by virtue of its unique combination of features and performance characteristics

This novel technology provides excellent insight into the mechanical properties of both materials and biological samples. Atomic force microscopes (AFM), which utilize this form of technology, are essential metrology instruments for the semiconductor, data storage, materials science, and life science industries. The advent of nanotechnology and nanobiotechnology will drive demand for these instruments.

Invention Description Researchers at The University of Texas at Austin have developed a novel ultra-sensitive displacement (and force) sensor based on nanoscale diffractive optical gratings integrated on silicon cantilevers. The sensitivity and dynamic range can be tuned using micro-electro-mechanical actuators on-chip. The device can be operated in both static and resonant modes to probe mechanical properties of materials and biological samples.

There are many key advantages to the novel technology. It offers multi-dimensional force and displacement measurement which are not offered by common metrology tools. Additionally, the novel technology provides improved measurement range over standard piezo-resistive, optical lever, interferometric, and capacitance technology. Other advantages include improved resolution, mechanically tunable sensing resolution, an integrated sensor and nano-scale manipulator, and resonant operation of probe tip for active penetration and injection of cells

Interested parties will benefit from Dr. Zhang's NSF funding for developing this technology.


High sensitivity provided by nanogratings Optical interfaces are suitable for non-destructive measurements High volume, precise, low cost, batch fabrication using semiconductor fab process Miniaturized metrology instrumentation on-chip


Market Potential/Applications Within the medical sensor market segment, this novel device can be operated in both static and resonant modes to probe mechanical properties of materials and biological samples.

Development Stage Lab/bench prototype

IP Status One PCT patent application filed

UT Researcher Karthik Kumar, Biomedical Engineering, The University of Texas at Austin Xiaojing (John) Zhang, Ph.D., Biomedical Engineering, The University of Texas at Austin

Type of Offer: Licensing

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