Diamond film may enable critical new sensors for bioterror

MADISON - In this time of the chronic threat of terrorism and the possibility of war with an adversary who may be armed with biological weapons, high on the wish list of security agencies and battlefield commanders is a quick and easy way to detect the presence of dangerous biological agents.

Now, with the help of a novel diamond film developed by chemists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the age of the inexpensive, compact sensor that can continuously scan airports, subways and battlefields for the slightest trace of biological weapons may be at hand. Coupled with modern electronics, the new sensors would not only be able to detect nearby biological agents, but also sound alarms and even call for help.

The new technology, which has been reported in a series of articles in scientific journals and at scientific meetings, is centered on a newfound ability to make highly stable, DNA-modified diamond films. The ability to build a stable platform that can "constantly sniff" for anything unusual - and that can be integrated with microelectronic devices - has long been a problem of surface chemistry.

"The real advance is getting the needed chemical stability and then combining that with electronic sensing," says Robert J. Hamers, a professor of chemistry at UW-Madison.

Hamers worked in collaboration with Lloyd Smith, also a UW-Madison professor of chemistry, to develop the chemistry for the new diamond surfaces, and with Dan van der Weide, a UW-Madison professor of electrical and computer engineering, to achieve the electronic sensing.

"Although there have been many advances in 'bio-chip' technologies, getting a stable platform that can be used for
continuous monitoring - not just one-shot analysis - has been
a long-standing problem," Hamers says. "And diamond solves it."

Biological sensors of the future will need to operate at the interface of biology and modern microelectronics. Not only must those sensors p

Contact: Robert Hamers
University of Wisconsin-Madison

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