Environmental Science, Policy, and Engineering Program (ESPE)

Science, Technology, and Society Program (STS)

Spring 2024

No Nonsense Sensors

ENS-234 / STS-234

Professor Dr. Ashraf Ghaly, P.E.
Department Civil & Environmental Engineering
Office Olin 102D
Tel., email 518-388-6515, ghalya@union.edu

Lectures: TTH 9:00-10:45AM, Olin 306.

Office hours: TTH 2:00-3:00 PM, or request an appointment at a time convenient to you.


Humans sense. They use their senses to monitor their surroundings. The basic five human senses are sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch, and the sensory organs humans use to do these functions are the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and skin. Humans have had a long history of fascination with building devices that do sensory tasks. These are sensors, and unlike human senses, they are sleepless by design. The use of sensors has recently exploded. Sensor applications have penetrated many fields such as consumer products, healthcare, communications, transportation, industrial processes, sports, security, space, military, and the environment, to name a few. The presence of sensors is all around us in almost everything we use and come across in our daily life. Starting with smart phones, passing through sensor-activated lights in hallways, and ending with remotely sensed images that we receive from satellites orbiting Planet Earth from outer space. Sensors have invaded every aspect of human life and are predicted to be so pervasive in many extraordinary applications that will significantly enhance humans’ quality of life. This course is designed for students interested in learning more about sensors and their human applications in adding a level of convenience never thought possible before.


90+ = A 85+ = A- 80+ = B+ 75+ = B 70+ = B- 65+ = C+ 60+ = C 55+ = C- 50+ = D




0 Introduction

1 Data Acquisition

2 Transfer Functions

3 Sensor Characteristics

4 Physical Principles of Sensing

5 Optical Components of Sensors

6 Interface Electronic Circuits

7 Detectors of Humans

  • Applications

8 Presence, Displacement, and Level Sensors

  • Applications

9 Velocity and Acceleration Sensors

  • Applications

10 Force and Strain Sensors

  • Applications


11 Pressure Sensors

  • Applications

12 Flow Sensors

  • Applications

13 Microphones

  • Applications

14 Humidity and Moisture Sensors

  • Applications

15 Light Detectors

  • Applications

16 Detectors of Ionizing Radiation

  • Applications

17 Temperature Sensors

  • Applications

18 Chemical and Biological Sensors

  • Applications

19 Materials and Technologies



Sensors have invaded human life in a very dramatic way. There has been an explosion of sensor use in many fields. This paper is geared to the exploration of an area where sensors have fundamentally altered the way things are presently being done versus how they were done before the extensive use of sensors. Fields where sensors are presently making a strong presence are numerous. The following only lists a few of these areas: sports, manufacture, security, sorting, traffic monitoring, wearable devices, health monitoring, the environment, social interaction, facility performance monitoring, remote sensing, space exploration, communications, etc. In the writing of their paper, students are expected to research the impact of sensors on an area where “methods of the past” and “business as usual” are no longer the case. In short, this paper is expected to draw a sharp contrast between how certain things were done before the use of sensors and how they are presently being done with the aid of sensors.




1. The following is the timeline for paper assignment and submission, and page limit:

Research Paper

Proposed Topic Due Date

Paper Submission Due Date

Min. & Max. Page Limit


By 9PM on Saturday before 3rd week

By 9PM on Saturday before 5th week

4-6 pages of text & up to 10 pages with supplementing materials


By 9PM on Saturday before 8th week

By 9PM on Saturday before 10th week

6-8 pages of text & up to 12 pages with supplementing materials

2. For each of their proposed topics, students are expected to provide the title of the paper and a few sentences describing its main thrust. The instructor will provide feedback and approve the proposed topics.

3. The papers should be a PDF or a Word document. Students may wish to supplement their text with proper photos, pictures, tables, graphs, charts, and figures. Supplementing materials must be referenced at least once in the text of the paper.

Paper Grading Criteria

Students taking this course will receive Engineering/Technology/Society (ETS) credit. Classroom presentations and discussion will promote critical thinking to enable students to evaluate evidence, results, and claims related to the natural sciences/engineering/technology and their impact on broader human or societal issues. In their written paper and in their oral presentation, students are expected to highlight and detail principles similar to those listed above. The grade in this term paper will be assigned based on the quality and depth of thought, organization, and relevance of content to the subject under consideration, understanding, clarity of presentation, and demonstration of ability to address questions with comprehension.


SUGGESTED REFERENCES (possible sources for additional reading)

Professor Ghaly Homepage Union College Homepage