Photonic crystals (PhC) are spatially ordered structures with lattice parameters comparable to the wavelength of propagating light. Their geometrical and refractive index features lead to an energy band structure for photons, which may allow or forbid the propagation of electromagnetic waves in a limited frequency range. These unique properties have attracted much attention for both theoretical and applied research. Devices such as high-reflection omnidirectional mirrors, low-loss waveguides, and high- and low-reflection coatings have been demonstrated, and several application areas have been explored, from optical communications and color displays to energy harvest and sensors. In this latter area, photonic crystal fibers (PCF) have proven to be very suitable for the development of highly performing sensors, but one-dimensional (1D), two-dimensional (2D) and three-dimensional (3D) PhCs have been successfully employed, too. The working principle of most PhC sensors is based on the fact that any physical phenomenon which affects the periodicity and the refractive index of the PhC structure induces changes in the intensity and spectral characteristics of the reflected, transmitted or diffracted light; thus, optical measurements allow one to sense, for instance, temperature, pressure, strain, chemical parameters, like pH and ionic strength, and the presence of chemical or biological elements. In the present article, after a brief general introduction, we present a review of the state of the art of PhC sensors, with particular reference to our own results in the field of mechanochromic sensors. We believe that PhC sensors based on changes of structural color and mechanochromic effect are able to provide a promising, technologically simple, low-cost platform for further developing devices and functionalities.
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