Hot Microcantilever-Based Selective Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) Sensor


Reference #: 01139

The University of South Carolina is offering licensing opportunities for a microcantilever-based sensor that selectively detects volatile organic compounds which is not possible with current microscale sensors.

Invention Description:

The subject invention enables selective detection of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) using a microscale heater made of a wide bandgap semiconductor. The detection is performed at a much lower temperature compared to traditional hot-filament-based VOC detection techniques, enabling operation with low power consumption. This invention addresses at technology gap in the selective detection of VOCs that is not possible with current microscale sensors.

Potential Applications:

Specific detection of these VOCs, i.e. formaldehyde, which are often responsible for various adverse health effects

Advantages and Benefits:

Major competitive advantages of this sensor include:

1.    Lower cost of sensor fabrication compared to other technologies offering selective detection

2.    Unique detection of analyte VOCs that is currently not possible with similar types of sensors

3.    Detection of VOCs below their auto-ignition temperature which significantly reduces power requirement, unlike present thermal-based techniques 


Detection of VOCs, which are widely used in industrial processes and household products, is very important due to significant health hazards associated with them. Current detection techniques require high power and have poor selectivity among VOCs, which is important for proper identification of the source of a problem.

Microcantilevers offer excellent opportunities for molecular sensing because of high sensitivity to various physical parameter changes induced by analyte molecules. Microcantilever heaters, which are extremely sensitive to changes in thermal parameters, have been widely utilized for calorimetry, thermal nanotopography and thermal conductivity measurements. Since only a small area of the microcantilever needs to be heated, they also offer the possibility of reduced power consumption for high temperature operation.

However, achieving repeatable and reliable functionalization of a microcantilever, especially over a small area, is a challenge that has thwarted practical applications of microcantilever-based sensors. On the other hand, unfunctionalized microcantilevers (typically made of Si) are not particularly sensitive toward a specific analyte, and are generally accepted to be incapable of performing selective detection. Bulky and more expensive tabletop instruments that are capable of selectively performing VOC detection are ion mobility spectrometers, fourier transform infrared spectrometers, and masa spectrometers. No product of similar type exists that can provide selective detection of VOCs.

Experimental Validation

Selective detection of several common VOCs utilizing their unique signatures has been validated experimentally.

Stage of Development

The first phase of demonstration using various test organic vapors has been completed. Further packaging and testing needs to be done to develop a commercially viable product.

Patent Information:
For Information, Contact:
Technology Commercialization
University of South Carolina
Goutam Koley
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