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Monday, August 15, 2011

Research in Biophotonics: One bit at a time

When we left off, we were talking about the big picture in biophotonics, which has to do with getting the nitty-gritty information about what chemicals are doing what in disease processes. This is a tough trick because molecules are small, and because the ones we want to know about live inside of us, and not in test tubes. For the last reason particularly, Prof. Altug’s group has put a lot of effort into developing cheaper ways to build sensors that can be made cheaply, quickly and could be used not just in a lab, but also in actual living tissue.

I’ll explain a little bit about how Prof. Altug’s group is working to address these challenges, but I’d like to say two things. First, I would like to thank Serap Aksu, who always made herself available to lead the way and explain all of the many steps to the process we followed in making our sensors. Second, what I’m going to write about is research – some of this has already been published, but some if it hasn’t been yet, so I can explain in general what’s going on.

To begin with, here are a few pictures of the finished product. The bow-ties squeeze infra-red light energy into spaces that are much smaller than you could get normally. After doing some chemistry to the surface of the chip, antibodies that are designed to bond with a particular protein are added to it. Here, we’re looking at the antennae on the scanning electron microscope, which is an awesome tool by itself.

The SEM scans the surface of our finished product, gathering more scattered electrons from it when the SEM’s probe is closer to the work. In this way, the SEM can form images of very small items, and magnify things to an outrageous degree – like 500,000 X.

In the past few months, the group has created a couple of exciting developments – the first one is that they’ve perfected a system for making sensors more cheaply, and they’ve come up with ways to build sensors on soft materials, which is great, as it will enable sensors to be placed in a lot more places, like inside of us.

Next: Tools of the Trade

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