Quantum capacitance for density-of-state-based sensitive sensors

The detection of very low amounts of an object is a major challenge faced in many different fields, including medical biology, environment, security, or aerospace. Current techniques get around this by labelling the substance with a marker to amplify the signal, but this is prone to experimental errors and costly. There is a considerable need for sensing technologies able to detect measures and analytes at the mesoscopic level.

Oxford Scientists have developed a highly sensitive, label-free density-of-states (DOS)-based sensing technology operating at the mesoscopic or nanoscale level. This technology can be applied to a wide range of potential applications, including specific detection of biological molecules. It can also be used in other areas such as environmental sensing and substance detection and has the potential to be deployed in space technologies. The technology can be used in a format that is conveniently scaled and multiplexed and easily integrated into Complementary Metal-Oxide Semiconductor (CMOS) technologies.

Limitations of current technologies

The ability to detect concentrations that are in the picomolar (10-12) range have proved incredibly challenging. Due to the limitations of the current technologies these challenges include:

  • Most techniques aren’t sensitive to a range of functional chemical groups
  • The signal received from un-labelled biological material can be too weak to be amplified
  • Samples require labelling with either an antibody or fluorescent marker to amplify the signal which is costly and prone to error

Electrochemical disruptive technology

Scientists at Oxford University and São Paulo State University have developed a highly sensitive sensor using nanoscale electrochemical disruptive technology. This technology, originally developed for biomedical sensing, detects the change to the potential upon binding of a molecule to an electroactive surface, which is then amplified to allow the detection of picomolar to micromolar concentrations of the item of interest. The device itself is constructed in such a way that allows it to be incorporated into existing Complementary Metal-Oxide Semiconductor (CMOS)-based instruments.

Potential applications

The device can detect molecules that are a few atoms in size, up to those as large as proteins but could also be used to detect electromagnetic radiation. The technology can be adapted to detect specific chemical functional groups. This adaptability enables the device to perform in many different applications such as:

  • Point of care medical tests for specific biological markers, using microliter volumes of human fluids
  • Chemical detection of banned substances e.g. drugs, alcohol, explosives
  • Petrochemical exploration
  • Environmental sensing
  • Space applications
  • Electrochemical solar cells
  • Super capacitors
  • Photonic devices

The technology has been tested as a device for biomarker detection and has specifically detected the concentration of a marker for inflammation at 55 picomoles.

Commercialisation

Oxford University Innovation is seeking industrial interest from parties wishing to licence and commercialise this technology.

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