A nanoscale active fiber composites (NAFCs) based acoustic emission (AE) sensor with high sensitivity is developed. The lead zirconate titanate (PZT) nanofibers, with the diameter of approximately 80 nm, were electrospun on a silicon substrate. Nanofibers were parallel aligned on the substrate under a controlled electric field. The interdigitated electrodes were deposited on the PZT nanofibers and packaged by spinning a thin soft polymer layer on the top of the sensor. The hysteresis loop shows a typical ferroelectric property of as-spun PZT nanofibers. The mathematical model of the voltage generation when the elastic waves were reaching to sensor was studied. The sensor was tested by mounting on a steel surface and the measured output voltage under the periodic impact of a grounded steel bar was over 35 mV. The small size of the developed PZT NAFCs AE sensor shows a promising application in monitoring the structures by integrated into composites.© (2011) COPYRIGHT Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers (SPIE). Downloading of the abstract is permitted for personal use only.