Design and Implementation of Reference-Free Drift-Cancelling CMOS Magnetic Sensors for Biosensing Applications

C. Sideris, P. P. Khial, A. Hajimiri

Magnetic imagers, which utilize magnetic nanoparticles as labels to realize biodetection assays, hold significant promise for deployment at the point-of-use. Resonance-shift-based sensors can be realized in standard CMOS processes without post-process modifications and offer great sensitivity at low price tags. Unfortunately, CMOS resonant-shift magnetic sensors suffer significant degradation in SNR and long-term stability due to low on-chip inductor quality factors and significant noise introduced from active devices and thermal variations. This makes standard resonant-shift-based imagers undesirable for use in low-signal biodetection assays. Furthermore, and most importantly, the significant long-term drift due to slow-varying noise sources and temperature changes makes these sensors inadequate for bioexperiments which may take timescales on the order of hours to reach completion. In this paper, we propose a transformer-based approach which enables sub-parts-per-million (PPM) signal detection without the need for any thermal compensation. The approach is self-referencing, leading to significant savings in chip area by removing the need for replica reference cells. We analyze the performance of the transformer-based circuit compared to the original second-order system and demonstrate its superiority for rejecting system noise. A proof-of-concept design of a fully integrated 2×2 CMOS transformer-based magnetic sensor array is presented which achieves reference-free, sub-PPM detection of magnetic signals. The system can be powered and operated completely from a laptop USB interface and each sensing cell can consume less than 3 mW of DC power. Finally, we show the results of an initial DNA biodetection experiment which confirms the capability of the sensor to be used for realistic bioassays.