Highly Functionalized Electrically Deflected Nano-Mechanical Sensors for Real-time Detection and Analysis of Chemical and Physical Interactions

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Ming Su, Ph.D.
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Andrea Adkins
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Electrically deflected nanomechanical sensors

US Patent 7,900,527 B1

Methods, devices and systems for electrically deflected nano-mechanical sensors to measure and characterize physical properties of materials and solutions

Chances are your health and safety rely on sensors, those ubiquitous little devices that tell us if a nuclear reactor’s safety systems are operating, if that piece of luggage contains explosive at the airport, or if an experimental drug binds tightly to its target. In a quest for smaller, faster and better sensors, micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS) have been scaled to the submicron range, leading to the new category of nano-electro-mechanical systems (NEMS). Theses nanomechanical sensors open additional potential for low-power high-frequency devices which exhibit new and exciting properties only possible on the nanoscale. When compared with instruments that are used in traditional chemical and biological analysis, micro/nanoscale sensing devices are far more sensitive, relatively inexpensive, easier to deploy and faster to respond. However, the currently utilized microcantilever devices suffer from several significant limitations, these include: a sensitivity to minute changes in temperature (difference of 0.2°C), increasing detection sensitivity requires complex and expensive amplification modules and bending can be affected by the position of the laser on the device, making comparisons of results from one study to the next extremely difficult.

Technical Details

The present invention overcomes these limitations, by introducing a novel electrically deflected nanomechanical sensor which utilizes an optical fiber, or waveguide, instead of a cantilever for signal transudation. Electrodes are utilized to place the fiber into a standardized starting position. Then a laser is propagated through the fiber which is projected onto a detector to mark the starting position. When a targeted compound interacts with the functionalized fiber, its electrical potential changes and it bends towards one of the two electrodes changing the position of the laser on the detector. Unlike current sensors, this novel invention does not depend on environmental factors such as temperature, nor does it need sophisticated instrumentation. It provides quality, quantitative information in realtime. Additionally, sensitivity can be increased simply by modifying the strength of the electrical field. This novel sensor has all the same advantages of commercially available sensors, but overcomes their limitations while providing a new range of potential applications.

Benefits

  • Highly sensitive, highly integrated, robust and reliable sensor which can efficiently provide real-time detection
  • Offers new possibilities for both detection and system integration, allowing for better adaptability and reconfigurability
  • Independent of environmental factors such as temperature (withstanding up to 400°C)
  • Sensitivity is easily controlled by the amount of voltage given to each electrode
  • Can perform protein and DNA electrophoresis in minutes, instead of hours

Applications

  • Security
  • Clinical diagnostics
  • Industrial processes
  • Public health
  • Forensic analysis
  • Scientific research
  • Technological developments