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  Biological and Chemical Sensors

From anthrax in a battle zone to bacteria in drinking water, SSIM researchers are designing smart sensors to test for dangerous amounts of numerous biological and chemical contaminants in the water and the air. SSIM researchers are developing a hand-held prototype device to detect water-borne E. coli, the bacterium responsible for numerous public beach closings in recent years. Besides being remarkably sensitive, the biosensor provides extremely quick results. Currently used E. coli sensing systems require about 18 hours to produce results, and therefore can only determine whether the swimming hole was safe yesterday. The SSIM device, which is in the patent process, reports its findings in a lightening-fast 50 microseconds.

Besides the E. coli sensor, researchers are developing smart sensors for a full range of infectious diseases in the air, which will be useful for such applications as well as water-borne bacteria, viruses, pollutants and other toxins. The applications for such sensors are far-reaching. In just the medical setting, for instance, sensors could track infectious pathogens, monitor for bacterial breaches in sterile rooms, or test patient saliva for infective agents. For this new generation of sensors, SSIM engineers are working with biologists, chemists and/or other scientists on multidisciplinary teams to design self-contained systems that can do real-time (less than 10-minute) analyses. They are accomplishing their lofty goal by developing:

  • ligands that selectively detect numerous biological and chemical agents;
  • novel dual-mode acoustic wave devices that are suitable for testing air or water;
  • an innovative Raman spectroscopy chip (described below);
  • a micropump for sampling and microreactors for analysis;
  • a wide variety of new methods, including a plasma-source molecular beam epitaxy system, and several other electroceramic-plasma, pulse-laser, and organic-deposition systems for making the necessary materials for the sensors; and
  • innovative excimer laser technology that can rapidly surface-micromachine devices and structures.