RPI’s Sawyer, Tufts’ Koomson Receive Grant for Floodwater Research

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Shayla Sawyer from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Valencia Koomson from Tufts University, both part of the Center for Lighting Enabled Systems and Applications (LESA), have been awarded a National Science Foundation (NSF) EAGER award from the Division of Biological Infrastructure for $297,451 for their proposal titled “Ultrasensitive frequency domain spectrometer for high throughput bacteria detection in floodwater.”

This two year EAGER research project will advance fundamental research on sensing technology for rapid characterization of pathogenic bacteria in floodwater generated by future catastrophic events. In the aftermath of major catastrophic hurricanes, danger quietly continues in the form of microbial contamination in the remaining floodwaters. NSF announced this special EAGER solicitation in early September in response to Hurricane Harvey to address a variety of technical challenges related to recovery from storm damage.

The awarded work leverages previous research at LESA to develop microbial contamination biosensors that are ultrasensitive, low power, compact and robust. This sensor technology will have broad applications in detecting microbial biohazards as part of a growing Internet of Things environmental security sensing platform.

Aspects of the research program involve merging self-assembled nanocomposite structures, high-sensitivity analog electronics, ultralow-power multiplexing and digitization circuitry and emerging microfabrication techniques to design a new class of compact fluorescence spectrometers. This enables high throughput spatial and temporal correlation of biofluorescence emission data for bacteria characterization unachievable with current systems.

The award’s cross-disciplinary research and education program will have significant broader impacts on fluorescence spectroscopy and optical sensor technology based on heterogeneous integration of nanocomposite optoelectronic sensors with state of the art silicon signal processing technology. The new sensor platform hopes to lead to a new class of low-power, miniature biosensors that will enable detection of microbial contamination in water, air and on surfaces. Interactive workshops with biochemists, environmental engineers and students will be organized to guide spectrometer development.

Funded primarily by NSF, LESA is an interdisciplinary, multi-university center developing smart lighting systems.

Published: December 2017
BusinessRensselaer Polytechnic InstituteShayla SawyerTufts UniversityValencia KoomsonCenter for Lighting Enabled Systems and ApplicationsLESAfundingawardsNational Science FoundationSensors & DetectorsAmericasRapidScanBiophotonics

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