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  • DARPA Awards Georgia Tech $4.3M
Dec 2010
ATLANTA, Dec. 8, 2010 — A new class of sensors able to detect multiple biological and chemical threats simultaneously with unprecedented performance may soon be within reach, thanks to the establishment of a multimillion-dollar research center led by Georgia Institute of Technology engineers.

Georgia Institute of Technology’s Ali Adibi, a professor in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, will lead the new Center in Integrated Photonics Engineering Research (CiPhER) that DARPA is establishing at the institute. (Image: Georgia Tech)

Biological and chemical sensing technologies are active research areas because of their applications in clinical screening, drug discovery, food safety, environmental monitoring and homeland security. Using integrated photonics, the new class of sensors will be able to detect chemical agents such as toxins, pollutants and trace gases, as well as biological agents such as proteins, viruses and antibodies — simultaneously and on the same chip.

“The proposed sensors will detect multiple biological and chemical threats on a compact integrated platform faster, less expensively and more sensitively than the current state-of-the-art sensors,” said the center’s leader, Ali Adibi, a professor in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

DARPA is funding the two-year, $4.3 million center as one of its Centers in Integrated Photonics Engineering Research (CIPhER), which investigate innovative approaches that enable revolutionary advances in science, devices or systems. For its center, Georgia Tech is working with researchers from Emory University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of California — Santa Cruz and Yale University. The team also includes industry collaborators Rockwell Collins, Kotura, Santur Corp. and NanoRods.

To create an integrated chip that will simultaneously detect multiple biological and chemical agents, the researchers need to achieve three major goals:

  • Design and fabricate photonic and optomechanical structures to sense differences in a sample’s refractive index, Raman emission, fluorescence, absorption and mass;
  • Functionalize the sensor surface with coatings that chemical and biological agents will attach to and create differences that can be detected; and
  • Develop the sample preparation method and microfluidic sample delivery device, and connect the device to the coated photonic structure.
Adibi is leading the first thrust, which is focused primarily on fabricating the millimeter-square sensing structures and on-chip spectrometers that will enable multiplexing – the detection of multiple agents using the same sensing modules. The sensors will detect changes in the refractive index, Raman emission, fluorescence, absorption spectra and optomechanical properties when a sample that includes specific biological or chemical particles interacts with the sensor coatings. Combining information obtained from the five different sensing modalities will maximize the sensor specificity and minimize its false detection rate, the researchers say.

“The goal is to achieve very high sensitivity for each modality and investigate the advantages of each modality for different classes of biological and chemical agents in order to develop a clear set of guidelines for combining different modalities to achieve the desired performance for a specific set of agents,” Adibi explained.

MIT chemistry professor Timothy Swager is leading the second part of this project, which aims to design surface coatings that will achieve maximum sensor specificity in detecting multiple biological and chemical agents.

“We plan to develop glycan-based surface coatings to sense biological agents and polymer-based surface coatings to sense chemical agents,” Adibi said.

For the third thrust, which is being led by MIT electrical engineering associate professor Jongyoon Han, the researchers will develop optimal sample preparation and delivery techniques. Their goal is to maximize the biological or chemical particle concentration in the sample and limit detection time to minutes.

“In two years, we hope to have a lab-on-a-chip system that includes all of the sensing modalities with appropriate coatings and microfluidic delivery,” Adibi said. “To show the feasibility of the technology, we plan to demonstrate the high sensitivity and high selectivity of each sensor individually and be able to use at least two of the sensing modalities simultaneously to detect two or three different chemical or biological agents.”

In addition to those already mentioned, this center also includes Georgia Tech chemistry and biochemistry professor Mostafa El-Sayed, Georgia Tech materials science and engineering professor Kenneth Sandhage, Georgia Tech Nanotechnology Research Center senior research scientist David Gottfried, Emory University biochemistry chair Richard Cummings, University of California — Santa Cruz electrical engineering professor Holger Schmidt, and Yale University electrical engineering associate professor Hong Tang.

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The transfer of energy from an incident electromagnetic energy field with wavelength or frequency to an atomic or molecular medium.
The emission of light or other electromagnetic radiation of longer wavelengths by a substance as a result of the absorption of some other radiation of shorter wavelengths, provided the emission continues only as long as the stimulus producing it is maintained. In other words, fluorescence is the luminescence that persists for less than about 10-8 s after excitation.
The combination of two or more signals for transmission along a single wire, path or carrier. In most optical communication systems this is referred to as wavelength division multiplexing, in which the combination of different signals for transmission are imbedded in multiple wavelengths over a single optical channel. The optical channel is a fiber optic cable or any other standard optical waveguide.
A material whose molecular structure consists of long chains made up by the repetition of many (usually thousands) of similar groups of atoms.
1. A generic term for detector. 2. A complete optical/mechanical/electronic system that contains some form of radiation detector.
A kind of spectrograph in which some form of detector, other than a photographic film, is used to measure the distribution of radiation in a particular wavelength region.  
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