Jun Li, a research scientist at the Center for Nanotechnology, NASA Ames Research Center, is honored by Nanotech Briefs magazine for his work on an innovative nanosensor technology:
Li’s carbon-nanotube biosensor may well be used to monitor water quality on NASA’s next planned spaceship, the Crew Exploration Vehicle that the space agency plans to fly to the moon, Mars and beyond. Carbon nanotubes are extremely tiny tubes measured in nanometers. Scientists say nanotechnology someday could lead to changes in almost everything from computers and medicine to automobiles and spacecraft.
Li won his prize in the ‘Innovator’ category, in Nanotech Briefs magazine’s first annual awards. The biosensor is an electronic chip – about the size of a stamp – that can detect multiple pathogens, which include various bacteria and viruses. This chip also can diagnose diseases in patients. Some of Li’s inventions may even enable deaf people to hear and blind people to see, according to the scientist.
Dr. Li, on his homepage, says that his lab’s work focuses on creation of biosensors that will be able to transduce biorecognition processes into measurable physical signals:
We are focusing on investigating systems in which the transduction is by electrochemical mechanisms. DNA molecules are electroactive at certain potentials which can be used to identify the hybridization process. However, the redox signal from DNA itself is very weak to be detected. We are working on the amplification of the signal using metal chelates as well as indicator-free mechanisms in the combination with the design of delicately architectured nanoelectrodes…
Applied voltage draws a DNA strand and surrounding ionic solution through a pore of nanometer dimensions. The various DNA units in the strand block ion flow by differing amounts. In turn, by measuring these differences in ion current, scientists can detect the sequence of DNA units. Atomistic scale simulations performed on the NASA Columbia supercomputer (SGI Altix-3000) allow detailed study of DNA translocation to enhance the abilities of these sequencers. Solid-state nanopores offer a better temporal control of the translocation of DNA, and a more robust template for nano-engineering than biological ion channels. The chemistry of solid-state nanopores can be more easily tuned to increase the signal resolution. These advantages will results in real-time genome sequencing. Potential applications for NASA missions including astronaut health, life detection and decoding of various genomes.