Directed Molecular Transport: Exciting News for Chemical Detection

Imagine being able to detect the presence of toxic chemical and biological agents before they’ve done too much harm to those in war-torn areas. Visualize finding disease in the body before they’ve done too much harm in those in war-torn areas. Visualize finding disease in the body before you’ve had a chance to notice something was amiss. With research being done at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, these life-saving occurrences are becoming more of a possibility. 

Dr. Mohammad Amdad Ali, a postdoctoral research associate in the Braun Group at the University of Illinois, says directed molecular transport could be the answer to both finding low-levels of chemical warfare agents and detecting early-stage diseases.

Current technology can’t find the analyte (the target molecule or substance) required to identify the chemical warfare agents or disease if their concentration is too low. Nanoscale sensors have been proposed as one option for ultrasensitive detection, however, due to the small size of these sensors, it may take a long time for enough analyte to reach the sensor to enable detection. For molecules at low concentration, there is simply a low probability that the molecule “runs into” the nano-size sensor. According to Ali, the directed molecular transport of analyte to nanoscale sensors is a solution to this problem, as it drives the analyte towards the sensor, greatly improving the sensitivity and accelerating the response time.

“While there has been an exceptional amount of research over the past few decades on advanced sensors, there has been significantly less effort on methods to rapidly and simply pre-concentrate the molecule of interest and bring it to the sensor,” Materials Research Lab Director and materials science and engineering Professor Paul Braun said. “What we report here does just that.”

“By using traveling ionic waves to drive molecular transport and concentration of hydrophilic, or water-soluble, molecules, we’re finding that we can drive molecules to a specific location,” Ali said. “From this, we could build a device capable of manipulating complex mixtures of chemicals for lab-on-a-chip applications. This is groundbreaking, the first time it has ever been done.”

Read more in the paper recently published in Angewandte Chemie.

For more information, contact Paul V. Braun:














Tsung-Han Tsai

Mohammad A. Ali

Paul V. Braun

Zhelong Jiang

Materials Science and Engineering at Illinois

Chemistry at Illinois

Beckman Institute

Frederick Seitz Materials Research Lab