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WASHINGTON, D.C. — The field of biosensors has rapidly expanded in the last decade, fueled by a combination of technological breakthroughs and burgeoning interest in the wake of 9/11. A large number of underlying technologies exist for detecting trace amounts of biological and chemicalmaterials in the environment—microscopic silicon wires, tiny carbon nanotubes, and magnetic nanoparticles, for instance.
"There are at least 20-25 different ideas today," says Purdue professor Muhammad Ashraful Alam, and there are scores of groups working on various versions of biosensors based on them. The effort has led to a dramatic increase in the sensitivity of detection. Today's best biosensors can detect trace chemicals or biological compounds a million times more sensitively than state-of-the-art systems fifteen years ago.
Postdoctoral fellow Pradeep Nair and Alam have developed what they call a 'periodic table' of biosensors that explain the sensitivity gain. The approach explains how today's various technologies relate to each and how the underlying physics relates to the sensitivity and speed of detection. This framework, says Alam, will accelerate the field because it will help organize techniques in ways that will allow them to be repeated across laboratories.
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