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An ion-sensitive field-effect transistor (ISFET) is a field-effect transistor used for measuring ion concentrations in solution; when the ion concentration (such as H+, see pH scale) changes, the current through the transistor will change accordingly. Here, the solution is used as the gate electrode. A voltage between substrate and oxide surfaces arises due to an ion sheath. It is a special type of MOSFET (metal-oxide-semiconductor field-effect transistor),[1] and shares the same basic structure, but with the metal gate replaced by an ion-sensitive membrane, electrolyte solution and reference electrode.[2] Invented in 1970, the ISFET was the first biosensor FET (BioFET).

The schematic view of an ISFET. Source and drain are the two electrodes used in a FET system. The electron flow takes place in a channel between the drain and source. The gate potential controls the flow of current between the two electrodes.

The surface hydrolysis of Si–OH groups of the gate materials varies in aqueous solutions due to pH value. Typical gate materials are SiO2, Si3N4, Al2O3 and Ta2O5.

The mechanism responsible for the oxide surface charge can be described by the site binding model, which describes the equilibrium between the Si–OH surface sites and the H+ ions in the solution. The hydroxyl groups coating an oxide surface such as that of SiO2 can donate or accept a proton and thus behave in an amphoteric way as illustrated by the following acid-base reactions occurring at the oxide-electrolyte interface:

—Si–OH + H2O     ↔   —Si–O     + H3O+
—Si–OH + H3O+   ↔   —Si–OH2+ + H2O

An ISFET's source and drain are constructed as for a MOSFET. The gate electrode is separated from the channel by a barrier which is sensitive to hydrogen ions and a gap to allow the substance under test to come in contact with the sensitive barrier. An ISFET's threshold voltage depends on the pH of the substance in contact with its ion-sensitive barrier.

Practical limitations due to the reference electrode

An ISFET electrode sensitive to H+ concentration can be used as a conventional glass electrode to measure the pH of a solution. However, it also requires a reference electrode to operate. If the reference electrode used in contact with the solution is of the AgCl or Hg2Cl2 classical type, it will suffer the same limitations as conventional pH electrodes (junction potential, KCl leak, and glycerol leak in case of gel electrode). A conventional reference electrode can also be bulky and fragile. A too large volume constrained by a classical reference electrode also precludes the miniaturization of the ISFET electrode, a mandatory feature for some biological or in vivo clinical analyses (disposable mini-catheter pH probe). The breakdown of a conventional reference electrode could also make problem in on-line measurements in the pharmaceutical or food industry if highly valuable products are contaminated by electrode debris or toxic chemical compounds at a late production stage and must be discarded for the sake of safety.

For this reason, since more than 20 years many research efforts have been dedicated to on-chip embedded tin

The surface hydrolysis of Si–OH groups of the gate materials varies in aqueous solutions due to pH value. Typical gate materials are SiO2, Si3N4, Al2O3 and Ta2O5.

The mechanism responsible for the oxide surface charge can be described by the site binding model, which describes the equilibrium between the Si–OH surface sites and the H+ ions in the solution. The hydroxyl groups coating an oxide surface such as that of SiO2 can donate or accept a proton and thus behave in an amphoteric way as illustrated by the following acid-base reactions occurring at the oxide-electrolyte interface:

—Si–OH + H2O     ↔   —Si–O     + H3O+
—Si–OH + H3O+   ↔   —Si–OH2+ + H2O

An ISFET's source and drain are constructed as for a MOSFET. The gate electrode is separated

The mechanism responsible for the oxide surface charge can be described by the site binding model, which describes the equilibrium between the Si–OH surface sites and the H+ ions in the solution. The hydroxyl groups coating an oxide surface such as that of SiO2 can donate or accept a proton and thus behave in an amphoteric way as illustrated by the following acid-base reactions occurring at the oxide-electrolyte interface:

An ISFET's source and drain are constructed as for a MOSFET. The gate electrode is separated from the channel by a barrier which is sensitive to hydrogen ions and a gap to allow the substance under test to come in contact with the sensitive barrier. An ISFET's threshold voltage depends on the pH of the substance in contact with its ion-sensitive barrier.