MANCHESTER, England, and MARSEILLE, France, Jan. 17, 2013 — A simple optical system using graphene plasmonics can potentially see a single molecule and can analyze its composition within minutes. The advance could lead to more sensitive drug testing of professional athletes.
The new type of sensing device, developed by University of Manchester and Aix-Marseille University scientists, employs topological properties of light phase to identify an attachment of just one relatively small molecule.
“The whole idea of this device is to see single molecules, and really see them, under a simple optical system, say a microscope,” said lead scientist Dr. Sasha Grigorenko. “The singular optics which utilize the unusual phase properties of light is a big and emerging field of research, and we have shown how it can have practical applications which could be of great benefit.”
Wonder material graphene could help detect the presence of drugs or toxins in the body, or dramatically improve airport security, University of Manchester researchers have found. Courtesy of the University of Manchester.
To test the devices, the team covered them with graphene — isolated for the first time at the University of Manchester in 2004. Next, hydrogen was introduced onto the graphene, allowing the devices to be calibrated with far superior sensitivity — three orders of magnitude better than existing models, the researchers said.
“Graphene was one of the best materials we could have used to measure the sensitivity of these molecules,” Grigorenko said. “It is so easy to put the hydrogen onto it in a controlled way.”
Besides faster and more accurate drug testing, the breakthrough could be applied to sensing explosives in airports and high-security locations, or to detecting viruses.
"We are only starting to scratch the surface of what this research might tell us, but it could have profound implications for drug detection, security and viruses," Grigorenko said.
Professors Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov, contributors to the research, won the Nobel Prize for physics in 2010 for their groundbreaking work on graphene. (See: Graphene Pioneers Share Physics Nobel)
Findings were reported in Nature Materials (doi: 10.1038/nmat3537).
For more information, visit: www.manchester.ac.uk or www.univ-amu.fr