Highly sensitive sensors for alkali metal ions based on complementary-metal-oxide- semiconductor-compatible silicon nanowires (SiNWs) with crown ethers covalently immobilized on their surface are presented. A densely packed organic monolayer terminated with amine groups is introduced to the SiNW surface via hydrosilylation. Amine-modified crown ethers, acting as sensing elements, are then immobilized onto the SiNWs through a cross-linking reaction with the monolayer. The crown ether-functionalized SiNWs recognize Na+ and K+ according to their complexation ability to the crown ethers. The SiNW sensors are highly selective and capable of achieving an ultralow detection limit down to 50 nM, over three orders of magnitude lower than that of conventional crown ether-based ion-selective electrodes. © 2007 American Institute of Physics.