Molecular Sensing Technology Uses Light to Detect Contaminants

Colorado State University professor Kevin Lear and a team of CSU researchers have developed and patented an optical microchip-based sensor that can detect multiple analytes such as proteins, DNA, viruses, and petroleum-based contaminants. The technology provides molecular sensing capability in an array format on a silicon microchip that uses a novel mechanism for transducing a light signal, and eliminates the need for external spectrometers by using a simple array of photodetectors. Photodetectors are basically miniaturized solar cells that are built right into the silicon chip where the molecular sensing is occurring. Using customized surface chemistries, specific molecules can be captured on the surface of the silicon chip through a precise binding event. "As this the binding event tugs the light away from the photodetectors, we can sense that with a simple electrical signal," explains Lear. Lear and his team believe the technology will enable a variety of applications, especially in areas like point-of-care medical diagnostics and environmental sensing.