HOUSTON, Jan. 20, 2011 Monitoring everything from explosives to tainted milk, materials for use in creating sensors for detection devices have been developed by a University of Houston (UH) chemist and his team. The findings recently appeared simultaneously in three journals.
"There are many dangerous substances, pollutants and infectious bacteria we are constantly exposed to," said Rigoberto Advincula, a highly cited materials scientist at UH. "Our work is poised to assist in such efforts as rapidly detecting explosives or banned substances in airports for homeland security, as well as monitoring commercial products like milk and pet food for substandard additive products. There is a need to measure this quantitatively and in a rapid manner."
In a two-stage effort on which a provisional patent has been filed, Advincula's team fabricated the polymer materials and then built a device that was used as a sensor. The work is based on what he calls "the artificial receptor concept." This is akin to an enzyme functioning as a biochemical catalyst within a cell, like an antibody, binding with specific molecules to produce a specific effect in the cell. The elements in Advincula's work, however, deal with metals and plastics and are called molecular imprinted polymers (MIP), a concept also used for making plastic antibodies. These polymers show a certain chemical affinity for the original molecule and can be used to fabricate sensors.
Based in electrochemistry, the films were prepared by electrodeposition, a process similar to electroplating used for metals in the automotive and metal industries. Their key innovation was to use a process called electropolymerization directly on a gold surface and attached to a digital read out. The group's next step is to put this film on portable devices, thus acting as sensors.
"Our materials and methods open up these applications toward portable devices and miniaturization. Our device
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University of Houston