Breakthrough in nanodevice synthesis revolutionizes biological sensors

Jan 31, 2007
Breakthrough in nanodevice synthesis revolutionizes biological sensors
Schematic of nanowire sensors operating in solution. (image by: Reed/Yale)

A novel approach to synthesizing nanowires (NWs) allows their direct integration with microelectronic systems for the first time, as well as their ability to act as highly sensitive biomolecule detectors that could revolutionize biological diagnostic applications, according to a report in Nature.

"We electronically plugged into the biochemical system of cells," said senior author Mark Reed, Harold Hodgkinson Professor of Engineering & Applied Science. "These developments have profound implications both for application of nanoscience technologies and for the speed and sensitivity they bring to the future of diagnostics."

An interdisciplinary team of engineers in the Yale Institute for Nanoscience and Quantum Engineering has overcome hurdles in NW synthesis by using a tried-and-true process of wet-etch lithography on commercially available silicon-on-insulator wafers. These NWs are structurally stable and demonstrate an unprecedented sensitivity as sensors for detection of antibodies and other biologically important molecules.

According to Reed, not only can the NWs detect extremely minute concentrations (as few as 1000 individual molecules in a cubic millimeter), they can do it without the hazard or inconvenience of any added fluorescent or radioactive detection probes.

The study demonstrated ability of the NWs to monitor antibody binding, and to sense real-time live cellular immune response using T-lymphocyte activation as a model. Within approximately 10 seconds, the NW could register T-cell activation as the release acid to the device. The basis for the sensors is the detection of hydrogen ions or acidity, within the physiological range of reactions in the body. Traditional assays for detection of immune system cells such as T cells or for antibodies usually take hours to complete.

"The ability to differentiate between immune system cells based on their function and with label-free reagents is key for rapid and reliable diagnostics as well as for advancing basic science," said co-author Tarek Fahmy, assistant professor of biomedical engineering. "These nanosensors can replace current technology with a solid-state device and the results promise to radically change the way we assay for these cells."

"The sensor is essentially on the size scale of the molecules it is designed to sense," said lead author Eric Stern, a graduate student whose thesis work has focused on designing and building nanoscale chemical and biological sensors. His project was funded by the Department of Defense and placed high importance on the capability of detecting multiple molecules, including pathogens.

"You can think of the process of making the nanowires as sculpting. It can either be done by working down from the rock or up from the clay — we carved down from the rock," said Fahmy. "Previous approaches used the equivalent of a hacksaw, we used a molecular chisel. We were able to make exactly what we wanted with the most traditional technology out there."

According to Stern, "We not only got the high quality smooth surface we wanted, but we were also able to make them smaller than we originally defined. Using the robust 'old fashioned' technology of lithography gives us manufacturing uniformity.

The authors say that although this study focuses on device and sensor performance, the strength of the approach lies in seamless integration with CMOS technology, and the approach "appears to have potential for extension to a fully integrated system, with wide use as sensors in molecular and cellular arrays."

"This project is a powerful demonstration of what we are trying to achieve in the Yale Institute of Nanoscience and Quantum Engineering," said Paul Fleury, Dean of Engineering and Director of the Institute. "It was a remarkable collaboration, of biomedical, electrical and mechanical engineering with chemistry and applied physics, that worked for all of us. And a dedicated graduate student with a focused idea made it happen."

Source: Yale University

Explore further: Toward making lithium-sulfur batteries a commercial reality for a bigger energy punch

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Protecting infrastructure with smarter CPS

7 hours ago

Security of IT networks is continually being improved to protect against malicious hackers. Yet when IT networks interface with infrastructures such as water and electric systems to provide monitoring and control capabilities, ...

Making drones more customizable

Sep 12, 2014

A first-ever standard "operating system" for drones, developed by a startup with MIT roots, could soon help manufacturers easily design and customize unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for multiple applications.

Research project on accident-avoiding vehicle concluded

Sep 12, 2014

PRORETA 3 is completed after three and a half years of research work: The comprehensive driver assistance and automated maneuver concept supports the driver in keeping the vehicle in a safe driving corridor- ...

Engineer aims to connect the world with ant-sized radios

Sep 10, 2014

(Phys.org) —A Stanford engineering team has built a radio the size of an ant, a device so energy efficient that it gathers all the power it needs from the same electromagnetic waves that carry signals to ...

Recommended for you

A nanosized hydrogen generator

2 hours ago

(Phys.org) —Researchers at the US Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory have created a small scale "hydrogen generator" that uses light and a two-dimensional graphene platform to boost ...

For electronics beyond silicon, a new contender emerges

Sep 16, 2014

Silicon has few serious competitors as the material of choice in the electronics industry. Yet transistors, the switchable valves that control the flow of electrons in a circuit, cannot simply keep shrinking ...

Making quantum dots glow brighter

Sep 16, 2014

Researchers from the University of Alabama in Huntsville and the University of Oklahoma have found a new way to control the properties of quantum dots, those tiny chunks of semiconductor material that glow ...

The future face of molecular electronics

Sep 16, 2014

The emerging field of molecular electronics could take our definition of portable to the next level, enabling the construction of tiny circuits from molecular components. In these highly efficient devices, ...

User comments : 0