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Strategic Research Initiatives

High-Throughput Single-Molecule Biophysics And Biomolecular Sensing

Songbin Gong (217-244-6564) electrical and computer engineering; Rohit Bhargava, Sua Myong, and Andrew Smith, bioengineering; Brian Cunningham, bioengineering/electrical and computer engineering

Addressing the Problem

Recent advances in single-molecule imaging, detection, and manipulation have vastly expanded our understanding of biology. Optical tweezers, atomic force microscopy, and single-molecule optical microscopy are providing critical insights into the physical structure, function, and dynamics of proteins and nucleic acids, and revealing mechanisms of molecular dysfunction in disease. However, these techniques are notoriously low-throughput and require specialized, expensive equipment and extensive training. For these reasons, single molecule techniques remain a niche field inaccessible to non-specialists, and limited progress has been made toward commercialization.

Research Goals

The research objective is to develop and fuse a diverse portfolio of technologies capable of amplifying microscopic events into large, measurable signals. These complementary technologies, including photonic crystals (PCs), micro-electro-mechanical system (MEMS) resonators, and probes like quantum dots (QDs) and fluorescence resonance energy-transfer (FRET) dyes, will, in combination, lead to a new generation of devices for high-throughput detection and manipulation of individual molecules.

Current Activities

  • Mechanical modulation of DNA-protein binding
  • Modulating quantum dot fluorescence
  • Engineering quantum dot vibrational modes
  • Fusing photonic crystals with MEMS devices
  • Optimizing quantum dot fluorescence amplification with photonic crystals