Diamond in the rough...and on the chip

In these tense times, the ability to continuously "sniff out" and detect dangerous biological agents anywhere, anytime is obviously in very high demand for our troops on the battlefield, in our airports, at our ports, subways, stadiums, and any other space where large numbers of people gather. The quandary has been to build such a detector small and stable enough, that could be used more than once, and that could send an alert when in the presence of dangerous agents. To date, no such sensor has been built, and one is badly needed.

That may change soon.

"One of ONR's missions is to support science that is in the area of "fleet/force protection," says ONR's Dr. John Pazik, who funds the project. "Through the National Nanotechnology Initiative, ONR funded advancements in a stable, DNA-modified diamond film that coupled with modern electronics on a silicon chip would lead to an ability to better detect biological agents. Ultimately this might lead to an early warning system for defense against biological weapons." This remarkable new film is being developed by chemists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

"We've done it," says Robert J. Hamers, professor of chemistry at UW-Madison. "And the hardest part getting a stable platform for a chip that can be used for continuous monitoring, not just one-shot analysis is over. We've proven that we can detect the electrical response when biomolecules bind to the diamond surface."

The sensor being developed will be about the size of a postage stamp and could be placed or sprinkled anywhere, acting like a "bio-cell phone," the developers say. These new sensors would detect biological molecules of interest and also take advantage of the signal amplification and processing properties of microelectronics. And, they would have a credible lifetime.

In the past, scientists tried in vain to develop surfaces with long-term stability for use as biosensors. Silicon, the ma

Contact: Gail Cleere
Office of Naval Research

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