A handheld, ultra-portable device that can recognize and immediately report on a wide variety of environmental or medical compounds may eventually be possible, using a method that incorporates a mixture of biologically tagged nanowires onto integrated circuit chips, according to Penn State researchers.
"Probably one of the most important things for connecting to the circuit is to place the wires accurately," says Theresa S. Mayer, professor of electrical engineering and director of Penn State's Nanofabrication Laboratory. "We need to control spatial placement on the chip with less than a micron of accuracy."
Using standard chip manufacturing, each type of nanowire would be placed on the board in a separate operation. Using the researchers' bottom-up method, they can place three different types of DNA-coated wires where they wanted them, with an error rate of less than 1 percent.
"This approach can be used to simultaneously detect different pathogens or diseases based on their nucleic acid signatures," says Christine D. Keating, associate professor of chemistry.
"Device components such as nanowires can be synthesized from many different materials and even coated with biological molecules prior to assembling them onto a chip," the researchers note in the Jan. 16 issue of Science. They add that positioning the nanowires accurately is still difficult using conventional methods.
Using their assembly method, the researchers can place specific nanowires in assigned areas. They begin with a chip with tiny rectangular depressions in the places they wish to place the nanowires. They then apply an electrical field between electrodes that define the area where they want the nanowires to assemble. The Penn State researchers inject a mixture of the tagged nanowires and a liquid over the top of the chip. The nanowires are attracted to the area with an electric field and they fall into the proper tiny wells.
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