Magazine article Science News

Polymers on Silicon Chip Catch, Release Proteins. (Tiny Labs)

Magazine article Science News

Polymers on Silicon Chip Catch, Release Proteins. (Tiny Labs)

Article excerpt

Using polymers as tiny molecule-absorbing sponges, researchers have taken a step toward shrinking room-size chemical laboratories to the size of a crumb.

Microchips full of tiny channels and mixing chambers may eventually enable scientists to analyze minute amounts of any solution quickly and accurately (SN: 8/15/98, p. 104). Such so-called laboratories-on-a-chip could be useful for detecting the first molecular signs of disease in a blood sample or the presence of a bioterrorism agent in the environment.

For the technology to work, however, it has to manipulate molecules to be analyzed on the chip. Toward that end, researchers at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque have developed a new method for gently grabbing and releasing proteins at particular places on a silicon wafer. This system could be used to concentrate biological molecules from dilute solutions for analysis, says Bruce C. Bunker.

He and his Sandia colleagues describe their research in the July 18 Science.

The investigators started with a silicon wafer on which they'd applied a silicon nitride coating, says team member Dale L. Huber. After etching a narrow channel in the silicon, the scientists deposited thin gold lines on top of the nitride layer so that the lines formed bridges over the silicon nitride-covered trench. Because the trench acts as an insulator, each gold bridge can be electrically heated. Each is essentially "a microtoaster," says Bunker.

Finally, the researchers grew a dense thicket of polymer molecules into a thin film over the gold lines. …

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