Sensing, the measurement and control of changes in environmental, biological or technical systems, has gained outstanding importance. From ambient intelligence like the “smart home”, wearable computing with IT support in workwear or electronically measured and monitored industrial production as well as craftsmanship, sensor technology plays a key role in applications in almost all areas of life. To get the most out of sensing, the development has to take place in mainly four technological fields which work together in a functional chain extracting information out of the data which is gathered (i.e., sensed) from the environment: material science and physical principles, sensor technologies, communications and data analytics. The sensor industry in Germany and especially in Thuringia is characterized by small and medium-sized companies. To cover all services that are necessary for the further development and production of multi-sensor systems, they rely on close collaboration InQuoSens as the Thuringian center with the respective scientific expertise and network partners. At the Institute of Micro- and Nanotechnologies (IMN MacroNano®) located in Ilmenau, we focus on material science and sensor technology as the basis for further research activities. Within the Technical University Ilmenau, the necessary links to communication and data analytics are available. The sensing technology within InQuoSens is focussing on the following topics:

  • Micro- and nanointegration
  • MEMS and MOEMS
  • Materials and surface modification for sensors
  • Nanometrology and nanopositioning technology
  • Micro- and nanosensors (with micro- and nanodiagnostics)

These research areas are complemented through different research groups at the Technical University Ilmenau.


Micro- and nanointegration

Contact: Prof. Martin Hoffmann, martin.hoffmann@tu-ilmenau.de

© Jan-Peter Kasper / FSU

Nowadays, advanced systems are composed of a large number of individual components that have been designed and customised according to a given subject. The purpose of system integration is to bring together individual components to shape a complete intelligent system with optimal overall performance achieved through technologies, procedures and routines from micro- and nanosystems technology.

Here, disciplines including assembly and packaging technologies, metrology and test engineering, reliability considerations, simulation and design are involved. Since the dimensions of these individual components are in the range of micro- or nanometers, one of the most essential targets is to make these small components usable in the everyday “macro” world.

MEMS and MOEMS

Contact: Prof. Martin Hoffmann, martin.hoffmann@tu-ilmenau.de

© Jan-Peter Kasper / FSU

Depending on its purpose, a microsystem may consist of a wide variety of different components. For example, concerning electronic and mechanical functional units with sizes in the micrometer region, the term MicroElectroMechanical Systems (MEMS) has been established. The individual components here are, for example, sensors, actuators, microfluidic elements or controlling and evaluation electronics. If optical components such as mirror arrays, laser emitters, and lens or filter units also play a significant part in the system’s overall function, they are treated as MicroOptoElectroMechanical systems (MOEMS). Within InQuoSens, the IMN MacroNano® contributes technologies to manufacture and structure silicon and packaging semiconductors, such as electron beam and photolithography, comprehensive opportunities for material processing, assembly and packaging technologies, as well as to manufacture optical components, and advanced techniques to produce sculptured surfaces and planar lenses.

Materials and surface modification for sensors

Contact: Prof. Jens Müller, jens.mueller@tu-ilmenau.de

© Jan-Peter Kasper / FSU

All materials change their physical properties in dependence of environmental parameters like pressure, temperature or pH-value. In the case of so-called intelligent materials, we try to deliberately affect or influence these changes in order to functionalise them for a defined purpose. In this way, intelligent materials are capable of adapting to special environmental parameters or ranges of application without additional sensors or control systems, in other words, “autonomously”. The material classes dealt with at the  IMN MacroNano® are:

  • piezo- and pyroelectrical compound semiconductors,
  • conductive polymers, carbon-nanomaterials,
  • sol-gels and others.

Metallizations, contacts and contact systems also become more important in this field of micro- and nanotechnology. A special kind of functionalisation of materials consists of a targeted modification of their surface, for example by structuring on a microscopic or nanometer scale. This includes both metal-ceramic nanocomposite layers and nanoscale compounds and nano-laminar structures (so-called MAX phases) and the popular examples sharkskin and lotus effects.

Nanometrology and nanopositioning technology

Contact: Prof. Jens Müller, jens.mueller@tu-ilmenau.de

© Jan-Peter Kasper / FSU

The control of objects and structures that are becoming smaller and smaller – being semiconductors, precision optics or biological samples – is regarded as an extraordinary technological challenge whose demands must be fulfilled by nanometrology and nanopositioning technology. These disciplines are aimed at positioning to the very last nanometer, analysis, modification and manipulation of surfaces.

The problems to be solved range from new forward-looking metrological approaches to efficient measuring equipment to new and optimised material combinations, as well as effective data processing and operator concepts. For these purposes, it is necessary to continuously and efficiently correct systemic and environmental disturbances, based on detailed modelling. At IMN MacroNano®, we are also pushing ahead development towards compact parallel imaging by means of intelligent cantilever scanning probe systems with integrated actuators.

Micro- and nanosensors

Contact: Prof. Jens Müller, jens.mueller@tu-ilmenau.de

© Jan-Peter Kasper / FSU

Sensors are rapidly becoming more important in their function as technical elements, since they make it possible to record information about a system or its environment as measuring variables and make that information available for further processing, such as in a controller. The variety of working mechanisms applied in sensors and measuring principles are as different as the measuring variables themselves (temperature, acceleration, pH-value, current/voltage, moisture etc.).

At the IMN MacroNano®, we investigate such innovative working mechanisms and apply them. This is particularly relevant for nanoscaled materials and structures, since here, for example, entirely new effects in comparison with the macro-world appear due to quantum mechanics. Consequently, nanoscaled functional units and systems with sensors are above all not characterised by the mere fact that the scale of the sensor has changed and a few parameters have been adapted. In fact, the new and unique conditions of the nano-world render it attractive for the researchers of the IMN MacroNano®.

In parallel to the development of innovative sensors, previously undiscovered opportunities to record measuring variables or to explore system characteristics present themselves. Conversely, the demand in diagnostics to register measuring variables that are hard to access or can only be slowly or inaccurately accessed is a major impetus to engineer new sensors. Thus, it might be necessary for the exploration of causes and consequences in bio-chemical processes to precisely trace both the sequence in time and the spatial distribution and development of particular variables, such as changes in the pH-value or the development of heat, in order to find a result that can be used in diagnostics. For such purposes, the refinement of sensors and the diagnostic tools for analyses on the micro- and nanostructure level at the IMN MacroNano® go hand in hand.

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Fields of expertise in quantum optics