NEW YORK, Oct. 27 -- Jamie Link, a graduate student in the department of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of California, San Diego, was awarded the $50,000 grand prize in the Collegiate Inventors Competition, sponsored by the National Inventors Hall of Fame, yesterday in New York City.
Link, 25, developed dust-sized chips of silicon that allow scientists to rapidly and remotely detect a variety of biological and chemical agents, including substances that a terrorist might dissolve in drinking water or spray into the atmosphere, the university said. She invented the tiny silicon chips, or "smart dust," in the laboratory of her graduate advisor, Michael Sailor, professor of chemistry and biochemistry; he will receive a $10,000 award for his role in the development. (See Photonics.com, "'Smart Dust' Could Lead to Tiny Robots".)
Link was in the process of making a thin multi-layer film of porous silicon on a crystalline substrate when the silicon chip accidentally broke. She then observed that each piece -- her smart dust -- retained the properties of the original. The particles have been found to have a wide variety of uses in medical diagnostics and research, environmental testing, drug delivery and countless other uses. For instance, Link can make her particles a particular color, then program them to detect a particular substance, such as a toxin. As the microscopic sensors find the toxin, they join together as a red spot to mark the toxic pollutant. The invention could have wide commercial use in research and medical laboratories -- in performing rapid biochemical assays, screening chemicals for potential new drugs and testing air and water for toxic chemicals.
"I'm most excited about the environmental applications," said Link, an outdoor enthusiast. "When I went down to Baja to test the polluted bay, I was shocked to see how dirty the water was. It made me realize how much we need tools like this."
Link, who has an undergraduate degree in chemistry from Princeton University, said she has always been interested in science, especially chemistry. "There's a large effort toward homeland defense at UCSD, and we're developing basic chemistry for it," she said.
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