Microcantilevers show significant promise in sensing minute quantities of chemical and biological analytes in vapor and liquid media. Much of the reported work on microcantilever sensors has made use of single functionalized microcantilevers, usually derived from commercially available atomic force microscope (AFM) cantilevers. However, arrays with hundreds to thousands of microcantilevers on a single chip are required to create sophisticated, broad spectrum chemical and biological sensors in which individual microcantilevers have different bio- or chemoselective coatings. Unfortunately, the most sensitive microcantilever readout mechanisms (such as laser beam reflection as used in atomic force microscopy) are not readily scalable to large arrays. We therefore introduce a new microcantilever transduction mechanism for silicon-on-insulator (SOI) microcantilevers that is designed to scale to large arrays while maintaining a very compact form factor and high sensitivity. This mechanism is based on in-plane photonic transduction of microcantilever deflection in which the microcantilever itself forms a single mode rib waveguide. Light from the end of the microcantilever is directed across a small gap to an asymmetric receiving waveguide with two outputs that enables differential detection of microcantilever deflection. Initial noise and optical power budget calculations indicate that deflection sensitivities in the 10's of picometer range should be achievable.© (2007) COPYRIGHT SPIE--The International Society for Optical Engineering. Downloading of the abstract is permitted for personal use only.