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Using periodic gratings etched into the surface of a piezoelectric plate, surface acoustic waves (SAW) can be converted into bulk waves and vice versa with high efficiency. If parallel grating structures are fabricated on opposite surfaces of a piezoelectric plate, a SAW also can be directed from one surface to the other. Using such structures, acoustic wave-based sensors can be designed that utilize SAW for the detection of chemical analytes on an electrode-free surface, i.e., the back surface. As a result, spurious sensor response and electrode aging that may occur when a chemical analyte comes in contact with the transducers are minimized. The design principles of these grating-based SAW sensors are explained, and the mass sensitivity is investigated using chemical vapor deposited thin polymer films, a type of material used in many practical chemical sensor applications. Experimental results are presented for the detection of nitrogen dioxide (NO/sub 2/) in sub-ppm concentrations.