Materials

Low-Cost Home Diagnostics: Smartphone Plus Nanoscale Porous Silicon

Electrical engineers at Vanderbilt University are envisioning a simple home medical test consisting of various silicon chips coated in special film. One chip could detect drugs in the blood, another could detect proteins in the urine indicating infection, and another could detect bacteria in water. The Vanderbilt team imagines a user picking the bodily fluid to test, taking a picture with a smartphone, and an app would indicate if there’s a problem or not. They have developed the necessary material: nanoscale porous silicon. "With our nanoscale porous silicon, we’ve created these nanoscale holes that are a thousand times smaller than your hair. Those selectively capture molecules when pre-treated with the appropriate surface coating, darkening the silicon, which the app detects," says Vanderbilt electrical engineer Sharon Weiss.