A silicon-based device, dubbed a microphysiometer, can be used to detect and monitor the response of cells to a variety of chemical substances, especially ligands for specific plasma membrane receptors. The microphysiometer measures the rate of proton excretion from 10(4) to 10(6) cells. This article gives an overview of experiments currently being carried out with this instrument with emphasis on receptors with seven transmembrane helices and tyrosine kinase receptors. As a scientific instrument, the microphysiometer can be thought of as serving two distinct functions. In terms of detecting specific molecules, selected biological cells in this instrument serve as detectors and amplifiers. The microphysiometer can also investigate cell function and biochemistry. A major application of this instrument may prove to be screening for new receptor ligands. In this respect, the microphysiometer appears to offer significant advantages over other techniques.