Plasmon-waveguide resonance (PWR) sensors are particularly useful for the investigation of biomolecular interactions with or within lipid bilayer membranes. Many studies demonstrated their ability to provide unique qualitative information, but the evaluation of their sensitivity as compared to other surface plasmon resonance (SPR) sensors has not been broadly investigated. We report here a comprehensive sensitivity comparison of SPR and PWR biosensors for the p-polarized light component. The sensitivity of five different biosensor designs to changes in refractive index, thickness and mass are determined and discussed. Although numerical simulations show an increase of the electric field intensity by 30-35% and the penetration depth by four times in PWR, the waveguide-based method is 0.5-8-fold less sensitive than conventional SPR in all considered analytical parameters. The experimental results also suggest that the increase in the penetration depth in PWR is made at the expense of the surface sensitivity. The physical and structural reasons for PWR sensor limitations are discussed and a general viewpoint for designing more efficient SPR sensors based on dielectric slab waveguides is provided. © 2011 Elsevier B.V.
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