NEMSIC: Hybrid Nano-Electro-Mechanical / Integrated Circuit Systems for Sensing and Power Management ApplicationsTo detect a carcinogen, a pharmaceutically active compound or toxic gases in the environment within seconds thanks to a handheld device: a revolution that may be made possible through the integration of so-called NEMS, miniaturised electromechanical structures in which at least one dimension is of nanometre scale, on an electronic chip.
The devices envisaged in the framework of the FP7 STREP project NEMSIC, coordinated by Prof. A.M. Ionescu at EPFL and including a broad European partnership, are some tens of nanometre thick and one micrometre long and will include both the sensors and the electronics necessary for data analysis.
At the heart of the "intelligent sensor" is a suspended nano-wire which is excited to vibrate at a particular frequency - its resonance frequency. The wire is chemically or biologically functionalised to make it selective for target molecules like carcinogens. Binding of target molecules leads to an increase in the mass of of the wire which in turn will change its resonance frequency and vibrate at a lower frequency (think of a violin: the thicker the string the lower the tone). Apart from the resonance frequency, the shape of the resonance curve (its quality factor) is also expected to change (see Figure 1).