Sensitivity-selectivity trade-offs in surface ionization gas detection

Gerhard Müller, J. Daniel Prades, Angelika Hackner, Andrea Ponzoni, Elisabetta Comini, Giorgio Sberveglieri

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Surface ionization (SI) provides a simple, sensitive, and selective method for the detection of high-proton affinity substances, such as organic decay products, medical and illicit drugs as well as a range of other hazardous materials. Tests on different kinds of SI sensors showed that the sensitivity and selectivity of such devices is not only dependent on the stoichiometry and nanomorphology of the emitter materials, but also on the shape of the electrode configurations that are used to read out the SI signals. Whereas, in parallel-plate capacitor devices, different kinds of emitter materials exhibit a high level of amine-selectivity, MEMS (micro-electro-mechanical-systems) and NEMS (nanowire) versions of SI sensors employing the same kinds of emitter materials provide significantly higher sensitivity, however, at the expense of a reduced chemical selectivity. In this paper, it is argued that such sensitivity-selectivity trade-offs arise from unselective physical ionization phenomena that occur in the high-field regions immediately adjacent to the surfaces of sharply curved MEMS (NEMS) emitter and collector electrodes.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1017
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Corona discharge
  • Gas detection
  • Secondary electron emission
  • Selectivity
  • Sensitivity
  • Surface ionization


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