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Gizmorama - May 14, 2018

Good Morning,

Drug testing is going to get much easier thanks to a sensing chip. Soon you won't have to go to be tested, the testing will come to you.

Learn about this and more interesting stories from the scientific community in today's issue.

Until Next Time,

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*-- Researchers develop cheap chip that detects illicit drugs --*

A low-cost chemical sensing chip has been developed that sniffs out cocaine in minutes, offering a promising alternative to drug monitoring.

Researchers at the University at Buffalo School of Engineering and Applied Sciences have developed technology that they hope can be incorporated in a handheld, portable device for detecting all kinds of drugs in biological samples of blood, breath, urine or spit. The findings were published Monday in the journal Small Methods.

"Currently, there is a great demand for on-site drug testing," Dr. Qiaoqiang Gan, associate professor of electrical engineering in the University at Buffalo School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, said in a press release. "The high-performance chip we designed was able to detect cocaine within minutes in our experiments. It's also inexpensive: It can be produced using raw materials that cost around 10 cents, and the fabrication techniques we used are also low-cost."

Current biological tests are slower and costlier, the researchers say, making their development a potentially important one.

"We created our chip by depositing various thin layers of materials on a glass substrate, which is cost-effective and suitable for industrial-scale production," Buffalo Ph.d. candidate Nan Zhang said.

The new chip, a structure known as a metasurface, has horizontal layers of material sitting atop one another. A sheet of dielectric material, such as silicon dioxide or aluminum oxide, is sandwiched between a silver mirror at the base of the chip, with a hybrid nanomaterial made from gold and silver nanoparticles as the chip's active surface.

The method is called surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy.

"SERS holds a lot of promise for rapid detection of drugs and other chemicals, but the materials required to perform the sensing are usually quite expensive," Zhang said. "The chips used for SERS are typically fabricated using expensive methods, such as lithography, which creates specific patterns on a metal substrate."

The method traps light at the edges of gold and silver nanoparticles. Some of the captured light interacts with the molecules when they land on the chip's surface and they are "scattered" into light of new energies. This displays what chemicals are presents much like how recognizable patterns are revealed in fingerprints, the researchers said.

The researchers said the chip can last after a year in storage because gold nanoparticles, which are deposited last, help to shield the silver nanoparticles from the air and then oxidization, degradation and tarnishing.

"In the future, we are hoping to also use this technology to detect other drugs, including marijuana," Gan said. "The widening legalization of marijuana raises a lot of societal issues, including the need for a system to quickly test drivers for drug use."

*-- Mars-bound CubeSats send first signals from space --*

The first messages from NASA's Mars Cube One, MarCO, have been received by the space agency. The two CubeSats, the first to be sent on a deep-space mission, beamed back radio signals to confirm all is well.

Like the InSight lander, the two craft are headed to Mars. Both were carried into space by a United Launch Alliance rocket on Saturday morning.

"Both MarCO-A and B say 'Polo!' It's a sign that the little sats are alive and well," Andy Klesh, lead engineer for the MarCO mission at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a news release.

Insight is headed to Mars to study the Red Planet's formation and evolution. Mars Cube One is following close behind, testing new miniature satellite communications technologies along the way.

If all goes as planned, in November, the two mini satellites will provide valuable observations of InSight's entry, descent and landing on Mars.

Once on the Red Planet, InSight will relay messages back to Earth with the help of NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. But if MarCO's technologies survive the trip to deep-space, it could usher in a new wave of miniaturized space exploration.

"We're nervous but excited," said Joel Krajewski, MarCO's project manager. "A lot of work went into designing and testing these components so that they could survive the trip to Mars and relay data during InSight's landing. But our broader goal is to learn more about how to adapt CubeSat technologies for future deep-space missions."


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