93929 - Sensors and Nanotechnology

Course Unit Page


This teaching activity contributes to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN 2030 Agenda.

Quality education Clean water and sanitation Decent work and economic growth

Academic Year 2021/2022

Learning outcomes

At the end of the course, the student acquires basic knowledge for understanding and using transducers and the related electronic interfaces. Specifically, the student learns to approach the topic from a systemic point of view, emphasizing the common elements of the different types of sensors, regarding their evaluation and characterization. The didactical tools are focused on the need for continuous technological development of the field, capable of satisfying the growing needs of design in electronics, telecommunications and biomedical engineering. In addition, the student will know how to orientate himself to the advanced applications of sensors in the field of environmental monitoring and energy saving.

Course contents



The goal of this section is to provide to students the fundamental know-how regarding sensor and transducer systems design. The course scheme avoids to tackle the subject as a collection of different cases of sensing systems. Instead, it is structured to underline the common backgrounds of the sensing paradigms such as noise floor and sensing limits. More specifically, a generic sensor acquisition chain will be analyzed from the sensitivity and resolution point of view with respect to the background and devise noises. The learning outcomes are 1) understanding basic physical aspects of sensing and noise principles 2) analysis and design of electronic interfaces for sensors. Lectures are often based on a bottom-up approach to better understand principles from examples.




    •    Introduzion of the course, example of research

    •    Sensors as a black-box. Concept of sensitivity, and relative sensitivity at first order approximation. 

    •    Measurements, precision, accuracy and resolution. Full scale and dynamic range.

    •    Recall of stocastic signals. Rms values and mean square values, standard deviations. Power spectral density. Correlation, autocorrelation and cross-correlation.

  • Law of degradation of resolution is sensor acquisition chains.

    •    Suprimposition of noise powers in uncorrelated signals. 

    •    The origin of noise. Brownian noise. The example of pressure sensor. 

    •    Noise in electronic components. Thermal noise and its derivation.

    •    Possonian processes. Shot noise and related derivation. 

    •    Concept of input-referred noise. Input referred noise in BJT and MOS devices. 

    •    The flicker noise and its derivation. Physical origin of flicker noise.

    •    Equivalent noise bandwidth. Signal-to-noise-ratio (SNR)

    •    White and pink noises.

    •    Acquisition sensor chain. Probability errors and equivalent number of levels.

    •    Noise in OPAMPs

    •    Resistive sensors interfaces. Wheatstone bridge and its sensitivity.

    •    Microcontroller sensing of resistors and capacitances. Ratioed measurements.

    •    Strain-gauges.  RTDs e PRTs.

    •    Thermistors, NTC e PTC. Magnetic sensors. 

    •    Capacitive sensors. Capacitance matrix. Kelvin guard ring.

    •    Charge amplifier. Differential capacitive sensing. Capacitive accelerometers.

    •    Noise in charge amplifiers. Correlated double sampling (CDS).

    •    Open and closed loop sensing. Oversampling converters. Sigma-Delta converters. Decimators.

    •    Lock-in e chopper sensing. Complex impedance measurements by lock-in sensing.

    •    Introduction to optical sensors. The photodiode. Charge and voltage photodiode readout in storage mode.

    •    Sensor networks.

    •    Array of optical sensors. Passive pixel CMOS sensors (PPS) and active pixel (APS) sensors. APS with correlated doble sampling. CCD principles. 

    •    Elements of color theory and color filtering.

  • Elements of theory of information and its application to sensors.




This second part aims to provide the fundamental theoretical tools to understand the principles of sensor transduction that intervene at the micrometric and nanometric scale. A last part will deal with the principles of interaction of radiation with matter as fundamental elements for understanding the modern investigative tools of the biomedical laboratory based on scattering principles (Raman spectroscopy, etc.). Finally, basic techniques for atomic force microscopy will be shown.

  • Photon-electron transduction. Photon interaction with matter. Quantum efficiency and spectral sensitivity.
  • Ion-electron tranduction. Metal-liquid interface and interfacial states. Impedimetric characteristics of the interface.
  • Electrical and magnetic polarization of the matter.
  • Piezoelectricity and mechanical transduction.
  • Nanosensors: nanopores, nanotubes, nanowires, graphene, bolometers.
  • Instruments: optical and electron microscope; Atomic force microscope (AFM).
  • Instrumentation based on scattering principles (Raman spectroscopy etc.)



M. Tartagni, Electronic Sensor Design Principles, Cambridge Press, 2021



Physical principles: 

R. Feynman et al., The Feynman Lectures on Physics, Addison Wesley, 1963


P. Gray, R. Meyer, Analysis and Design of Analog Integrated Circuits,  Wiley 1993

B. Razavi, Design of Analog CMOS Integrated Circuits, McGraw-Hill, 2000


J. Bockris, A. Reddy, Modern Electrochemistry-2 Electrodics, Plenum, 1998

H. Morgan, N. Green, AC Electrokinetics: colloids and nanoparticles, RSP Press, 2001

Microfluidics & Microfabrication:

M. Madou, Fundamentals of Microfabrication, CRC Press, 2002

N.T. Nguyen, S. Wereley, Fundamentals and Application of Microfluidics, Artech, 2002

Sensors & signal conditioning:

R. Pallas-Areny, J. Webster Sensors and Signal Conditioning, Wiley, 2001

A/D - D/A conversion:

D. Johns, K. Martin, Analog Integrated Circuit Design, Wiley, 1997


Teaching methods

Frontal lessons. The primary textbook and the slides of each lesson are in English and available on iol.unibo.it - The course is taught in Italian for the sole reason that the course is shared with an analogous one in the second cycle degree in Electronic of the Telecommunications Engineering for Energy which must be taught in Italian. The 3CFU part WILL BE TAUGHT IN ENGLISH.

Assessment methods

The exam consists of an oral interview of 40-60m on both teaching modules. The critical skills of the student on the topics of the program and their ability to contextualize and argue concepts will be particularly evaluated. The examination can be held in Italian or English. In both cases, the appropriateness of the terminology used by the student will be assessed.

Teaching tools

The primary textbook and the slides of each lesson are in English and the last ones available on iol.unibo.it

Office hours

See the website of Marco Tartagni