We demonstrate a new type of sensor incorporated directly into Corning Gorilla glass, an ultraresistant glass widely used in the screen of popular devices such as smartphones, tablets, and smart watches. Although physical space is limited in portable devices, the screens have been so far neglected in regard to functionalization. Our proof-of-concept shows a new niche for photonics device development, in which the screen becomes an active component integrated into the device. The sensor itself is a near-surface waveguide, sensitive to refractive index changes, enabling the analysis of liquids directly on the screen of a smartphone, without the need for any add-ons, thus opening this part of the device to advanced functionalization. The primary function of the screen is unaffected, since the sensor and waveguide are effectively invisible to the naked eye. We fabricated a waveguide just below the glass surface, directly written without any surface preparation, in which the change in refractive index on the surface–air interface changes the light guidance, thus the transmission of light. This work reports on sensor fabrication, using a femtosecond pulsed laser, and the light-interaction model of the beam propagating at the surface is discussed and compared with experimental measurement for refractive indexes in the range 1.3–1.7. A new and improved model, including input and output reflections due to the effective mode index change, is also proposed and yields a better match with our experimental measurements and also with previous measurements reported in the literature.
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