A microsensor is an extremely small device capable of picking up and relaying environmental information. Such devices can measure biological, thermal, chemical, and other forms of data and send them to a processor. The processor then converts the information into a meaningful form to allow people to access it for a variety of uses. Manufacturers of scientific equipment may produce microsensors as part of their lineup. They can also be custom built for specific projects.
Some microsensors operate on the nanoscale, which means a microscope may be necessary to see them. In scientific research, the devices are employed everywhere from cell biology to environmental monitoring. They can plug into a sensor array to collect a variety of data, and may interface wirelessly with processors for ease of operation. Wireless microsensor systems need a power source to communicate, but their power needs may be very low.
The way microsensors are designed must include a way of collecting the desired information, which can depend on how the device will be used. Sensors can measure mechanical phenomena like weight or movement along with the presence of specific chemical traces in the environment. These can be limited to biological or radiological events for some kinds of sensors. Temperature, light levels, and other properties may be measured as well.
The pickup relays the information to the sensor, which transmits it to the processor. Processors can include a buffer to store information, allowing them to burst transmit to another device. Some microsensor modules offer realtime reading abilities, which can be useful for activities like monitoring cells in culture. Others store data which must be downloaded when researchers want to interact with it.
In addition to being useful for research, these devices also have a number of commercial applications. Extremely small, low-cost sensors can be useful for quality control, pollution monitoring, and similar activities. For example, microsensors in the packaging of dairy products could send out an alert if they get too warm, indicating that they have been stored in unsafe conditions. Likewise, microsensors have a role to play in medical care, where they could be taped to the skin, injected, or swallowed to collect patient information.
Ongoing research into microsensor applications occurs at public and private labs in many regions of the world. People with an interest in this technology can pursue employment in a number of sectors. An advanced degree may be necessary for work in prestigious labs.