Sensors and devices mimicking nature

Drawing inspiration from nature, we're designing sensors and devices that mimic biological systems. Our work has led to a sensor that monitors the health of the population and environment, as well as water quality for use in industrial processes.

The Challenge

Affordable monitoring for industrial applications

Many industrial processes require new low cost solutions for monitoring the health of the population, environment and water quality.

Our Response

Low cost sensors that mimic nature

Our multidisciplinary team of chemists, physicists and engineers developed a range of low cost sensors and devices based on biomimetic principles, which draw inspiration from nature by mimicking natural biological systems.

One example of nature in action is the ability for sniffer dogs to detect melanoma cancer in people using their sense of smell.

Sense of taste and smell is based on arrays of sensors that can identify a class of substance from its unique fingerprint response.

Cancer cells produce a variety of metabolites that are normally absent in healthy tissue, and the molecular fingerprint of these foreign (cancer) metabolites can be detected by a dog’s acute sense of smell.

These sensors mimic biological systems found in nature.

Our sensors are able to screen fluids such as ground water, but also body fluids such as urine, sweat and saliva, to rapidly detect impurities, contamination or diseases such as cancer, tuberculosis and malaria.

The sensors are chemiresistors, which change their electrical resistance according to changes in the nearby chemical environment. They are made up of thin films of gold nanoparticles whose surfaces are covered with different types of molecules.

Depending on which molecule is used, the sensor will yield a semi-specific answer which is then analysed using well known techniques such as principal component analysis. This produces an electrical signal that reflects the chemical fingerprint of the solution, making the sensors well suited to analysing complex mixtures of contaminants and metabolites.

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