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Hydrogels used to make precise new sensor

of raised stripes called a "diffraction grating," which is coated with gold on both the stripe surfaces and the spaces in between. The stripes expand and contract depending on the pH level of the environment.

Researchers in Ziaie's lab fabricated the hydrogel, while Savran's group led work in the design, development and testing of the diffraction-based sensor.

The sensors work by analyzing laser light reflecting off the gold coatings. Reflections from the stripes and spaces in between interfere with each other, creating a "diffraction pattern" that differs depending on the height of the stripes.

These diffraction patterns indicate minute changes in the movement of the hydrogel stripes in response to the environment, in effect measuring changes in pH.

"By precise measurement of pH, the diffraction patterns can reveal a lot of information about the sample environment," said Savran, who by courtesy is an associate professor of biomedical engineering and electrical and computer engineering. "This technology detects very small changes in the swelling of the diffraction grating, which makes them very sensitive."

The pH of a liquid is recorded on a scale from 0 to 14, with 0 being the most acidic and 14 the most basic. Findings showed the device's high sensitivity enables it to resolve changes smaller than one-1,000th on the pH scale, measuring swelling of only a few nanometers. A nanometer is about 50,000 times smaller than the finest sand grain.

"We know we can make them even more sensitive," Savran said. "By using different hydrogels, gratings responsive to stimuli other than pH can also be fabricated."

The work is ongoing.

"It's a good example of collaborations that can blossom when labs focusing on different research are located next to each other," Savran said. "Professor Ziaie's lab was already working with hydrogels, and my group was working on diffraction-based sensors. Hearing about the hydr

Contact: Emil Venere
Purdue University

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