Nanotechnology Now

Our NanoNews Digest Sponsors

Heifer International

Wikipedia Affiliate Button

Home > Press > New sensor developed by MIT chemical engineers can detect tiny traces of explosives

Abstract:
MIT researchers have created a new detector so sensitive it can pick up a single molecule of an explosive such as TNT.

New sensor developed by MIT chemical engineers can detect tiny traces of explosives

Cambridge, MA | Posted on May 9th, 2011

To create the sensors, chemical engineers led by Michael Strano coated carbon nanotubes hollow, one-atom-thick cylinders made of pure carbon with protein fragments normally found in bee venom. This is the first time those proteins have been shown to react to explosives, specifically a class known as nitro-aromatic compounds that includes TNT.

If developed into commercial devices, such sensors would be far more sensitive than existing explosives detectors commonly used at airports, for example which use spectrometry to analyze charged particles as they move through the air.

"Ion mobility spectrometers are widely deployed because they are inexpensive and very reliable. However, this next generation of nanosensors can improve upon this by having the ultimate detection limit, [detecting] single molecules of explosives at room temperature and atmospheric pressure," says Strano, the Charles (1951) and Hilda Roddey Career Development Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering.

A former graduate student in Strano's lab, Daniel Heller (now a Damon Runyon Fellow at MIT's David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research), is lead author of a paper describing the technology in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The paper appears online this week.

Strano has filed for a patent on the technology, which makes use of protein fragments called bombolitins. "Scientists have studied these peptides, but as far as we know, they've never been shown to have an affinity for and recognize explosive molecules in any way," he says.

In recent years, Strano's lab has developed carbon-nanotube sensors for a variety of molecules, including nitric oxide, hydrogen peroxide and toxic agents such as the nerve gas sarin. Such sensors take advantage of carbon nanotubes' natural fluorescence, by coupling them to a molecule that binds to a specific target. When the target is bound, the tubes' fluorescence brightens or dims.

The new explosives sensor works in a slightly different way. When the target binds to the bee-venom proteins coating the nanotubes, it shifts the fluorescent light's wavelength, instead of changing its intensity. The researchers built a new type of microscope to read the signal, which can't be seen with the naked eye. This type of sensor, the first of its kind, is easier to work with because it is not influenced by ambient light.

"For a fluorescent sensor, using the intensity of the fluorescent light to read the signal is more error-prone and noisier than measuring a wavelength," Strano says.

Each nanotube-peptide combination reacts differently to different nitro-aromatic compounds. By using several different nanotubes coated in different bombolitins, the researchers can identify a unique "fingerprint" for each explosive they might want to detect. The nanotubes can also sense the breakdown products of such explosives.

"Compounds such as TNT decompose in the environment, creating other molecule types, and those derivatives could also be identified with this type of sensor," Strano says. "Because molecules in the environment are constantly changing into other chemicals, we need sensor platforms that can detect the entire network and classes of chemicals, instead of just one type."

The researchers also showed that the nanotubes can detect two pesticides that are nitro-aromatic compounds as well, making them potentially useful as environmental sensors. The research was funded by the Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies at MIT.

Philip Collins, a professor of physics at the University of California at Irvine, says the new approach is a novel extension of Strano's previous work on carbon-nanotube sensors. "It's nice what they've done combined a couple of different things that are not sensitive to explosives, and shown that the combination is sensitive," says Collins, who was not involved in this research.

The technology has already drawn commercial and military interest, Strano says. For the sensor to become practical for widespread use, it would have to be coupled with a commercially available concentrator that would bring any molecules floating in the air in contact with the carbon nanotubes.

"It doesn't mean that we are ready to put these onto a subway and detect explosives immediately. But it does mean that now the sensor itself is no longer the bottleneck," Strano says. "If there's one molecule in a sample, and if you can get it to the sensor, you can now detect and quantify it."

Other researchers from MIT involved in the work include former postdocs Nitish Nair and Paul Barone; graduate students Jingqing Zhang, Ardemis Boghossian and Nigel Reuel; and undergraduates George Pratt '10 and current junior Adam Hansborough.

Written by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office

####

For more information, please click here

Contacts:
Caroline McCall
MIT News Office
E:
T: 617-253-1682

Copyright © MIT

If you have a comment, please Contact us.

Issuers of news releases, not 7th Wave, Inc. or Nanotechnology Now, are solely responsible for the accuracy of the content.

Bookmark:
Delicious Digg Newsvine Google Yahoo Reddit Magnoliacom Furl Facebook

Related News Press

News and information

Scientists discover new 'boat' form of promising semiconductor: GeSe Uncommon form attenuates semiconductor's band gap size March 23rd, 2017

Caught on camera -- chemical reactions 'filmed' at the single-molecule level March 22nd, 2017

Rare-earths become water-repellent only as they age March 22nd, 2017

Pulverizing e-waste is green, clean -- and cold: Rice, Indian Institute researchers use cryo-mill to turn circuit boards into separated powders March 21st, 2017

Govt.-Legislation/Regulation/Funding/Policy

Scientists discover new 'boat' form of promising semiconductor: GeSe Uncommon form attenuates semiconductor's band gap size March 23rd, 2017

Electro-optical switch transmits data at record-low temperatures: Operating at temperatures near absolute zero, switch could enable significantly faster data processing with lower power consumption March 20th, 2017

AIM Photonics Welcomes Coventor as Newest Member: US-Backed Initiative Taps Process Modeling Specialist to Enable Manufacturing of High-Yield, High-Performance Integrated Photonic Designs March 16th, 2017

Researchers develop groundbreaking process for creating ultra-selective separation membranes: Discovery could greatly improve energy-efficiency of separation and purification processes in the chemical and petrochemical industries March 15th, 2017

Sensors

UC researchers use gold coating to control luminescence of nanowires: University of Cincinnati physicists manipulate nanowire semiconductors in pursuit of making electronics smaller, faster and cheaper March 17th, 2017

Optical fingerprint can reveal pollutants in the air: Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology have proposed a new, sophisticated method of detecting molecules with sensors based on ultra-thin nanomaterials March 15th, 2017

New optical nanosensor improves brain mapping accuracy, opens way for more applications: Potassium-sensitive fluorescence-imaging method shines light on chemical activity within the brain March 3rd, 2017

Smart multi-layered magnetic material acts as an electric switch: New study reveals characteristic of islands of magnetic metals between vacuum gaps, displaying tunnelling electric current March 1st, 2017

Discoveries

Scientists discover new 'boat' form of promising semiconductor: GeSe Uncommon form attenuates semiconductor's band gap size March 23rd, 2017

Caught on camera -- chemical reactions 'filmed' at the single-molecule level March 22nd, 2017

Rare-earths become water-repellent only as they age March 22nd, 2017

Pulverizing e-waste is green, clean -- and cold: Rice, Indian Institute researchers use cryo-mill to turn circuit boards into separated powders March 21st, 2017

Announcements

Scientists discover new 'boat' form of promising semiconductor: GeSe Uncommon form attenuates semiconductor's band gap size March 23rd, 2017

Caught on camera -- chemical reactions 'filmed' at the single-molecule level March 22nd, 2017

Rare-earths become water-repellent only as they age March 22nd, 2017

Pulverizing e-waste is green, clean -- and cold: Rice, Indian Institute researchers use cryo-mill to turn circuit boards into separated powders March 21st, 2017

Homeland Security

Nanosensors on the alert for terrorist threats: Scientists interested in the prospects of gas sensors based on binary metal oxide nanocomposites November 5th, 2016

Nanobionic spinach plants can detect explosives: After sensing dangerous chemicals, the carbon-nanotube-enhanced plants send an alert November 2nd, 2016

Notre Dame researchers find transition point in semiconductor nanomaterials September 6th, 2016

Down to the wire: ONR researchers and new bacteria August 18th, 2016

Military

Graphene sheets capture cells efficiently: New method could enable pinpoint diagnostics on individual blood cells March 3rd, 2017

Bioinspired process makes materials light, robust, programmable at nano- to macro-scale: Ultralight web of silk nano fibers withstands load 4,000 times its weight February 28th, 2017

'Lossless' metamaterial could boost efficiency of lasers and other light-based devices February 20th, 2017

Engineers shrink microscope to dime-sized device February 17th, 2017

NanoNews-Digest
The latest news from around the world, FREE



  Premium Products
NanoNews-Custom
Only the news you want to read!
 Learn More
NanoTech-Transfer
University Technology Transfer & Patents
 Learn More
NanoStrategies
Full-service, expert consulting
 Learn More











ASP
Nanotechnology Now Featured Books




NNN

The Hunger Project