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Wireless sensor networks are appealing to researchers due to their wide range of application potential in areas such as target detection and tracking, environmental monitoring, industrial process monitoring, and tactical systems. However, low sensing ranges result in dense networks and thus it becomes necessary to achieve an efficient medium-access protocol subject to power constraints. Various medium-access control (MAC) protocols with different objectives have been proposed for wireless sensor networks. In this article, we first outline the sensor network properties that are crucial for the design of MAC layer protocols. Then, we describe several MAC protocols proposed for sensor networks, emphasizing their strengths and weaknesses. Finally, we point out open research issues with regard to MAC layer design.