Lab-on-a-chip technologies for national security

We have developed two field-deployable handheld devices for emergency first responders to detect and identify chemical and biological agents in potential terrorist situations.

The Challenge

Laboratories needs to be mobile to remain relevant

Great changes are occurring around the world in the field of Analysis at Point of Sample (APOS), often using new Lab-on-a-Chip technologies.

Many traditional laboratory-based analysis services, for example in healthcare or environmental monitoring, are being replaced by field deployable integrated systems that provide immediate detailed information that enables fast responses, saving time, money and often lives.

This rapid transformation of the scientific instrument industry is being driven by new technologies for integrating multiple different physical phenomena in micro-fabricated chips, often building on electronics with photonics, fluidics and electro-kinetics.

Our Response

Two new devices for rapid-response in the field

We have explored a number of approaches to building integrated systems for a wide variety of applications.

In recent times, there has been a national call to find ways better to equip emergency first responders in potential terrorism situations, and we’ve created two different approaches:

  1. Field-deployable hand-held device - working in the National Security theme with the Defence Science and Technology Organisation and certain security agencies, we built the world's first field-deployable hand-held device for detecting and identifying chemical and biological warfare agents including organophosphates, nerve agents, Ricin and Sulphur Mustard (HD.) The device combines capillary electrophoresis into a disposable, multiplexed microfluidic lab-on-a-chip mounted in a miniaturised power supply and analysis unit. Our proprietary finger-printing algorithms then help to discriminate between many different species.
  2. Chemical agent detector to safeguard Australia - the second device is intended for continuous screening of air or waterborne samples for very small traces of chemicals or explosives. To achieve the required sensitivity we developed a new lab-on-a-chip technology in collaboration with our entomologists. The device combines microfluidic chips with exquisite bio-inspired insect chemical receptors, and allows us to create a whole new platform technology for ultra-sensitive chemical sensing.

The Results

Expanding into new applications

The technology known as Cypernose was recognised in 2012 when the leader of the development group, our Dr Yonggang Zhu, won the Australian Museum’s DSTO Eureka Prize for Outstanding Science in Support of Defence or National Security.

Cybernose is currently in development for a new range of applications.


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