Purpose – To describe the historical development of micro-electromechanical system (MEMS) sensor technology, to consider its current use in physical, gas and chemical sensing and to identify and discuss future technological trends and directions. Design/methodology/approach – This paper identifies the early research which led to the development of MEMS sensors. It considers subsequent applications of MEMS to physical, gas and chemical sensing and discusses recent technological innovations. Findings – This paper illustrates the greatly differing impacts exerted on physical, gas and chemical sensing by MEMS technology. More recent developments are discussed which suggest strong market prospects for MEMS devices with analytical capabilities such as microspectrometers, micro- GCs, microfluidics, lab-on-a-chip and BioMEMS. This view is supported by various market data and forecasts. Originality/value – This paper provides a technical and commercial insight into the applications of MEMS technology to physical and molecular sensors from the 1960s to the present day. It also identifies high growth areas for innovative developments in the technology.
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