IIBR Instrumentation: Collaborative Research: Development of a Single-Biomolecule Detection Instrument via Digital Counting of Nanoparticles

Project: Research project

Project Details


An award is made to University of Akron and Pennsylvania State University to create a digital instrument for rapid detection of a broad range of biomolecules with single-molecule resolution. The highly interdisciplinary research will fulfill the urgent needs of low-abundance biomolecules detecting in many biological research areas and provide excellent educational experiences for the students involved in the project. The design concept and the digital instrument will be incorporated into undergraduate and graduate courses. The students will be trained and prepared with the expertise needed for the next generation of engineers and researchers by being exposed to the underlying engineering/science principles and hands-on experiences. The research activities will also provide excellent training opportunities for undergraduates and K-12 students. Through multiple education and outreach programs such as 'High School Bridge', 'Increasing Diversity in Engineering Academics' and 'Women in Engineering' programs at UA, and 'Multicultural Engineering Program', 'Exploration U Programs', and the 'Spectacular Science Event' programs at PSU, we will recruit undergraduate and middle/high school students, with an emphasis on underrepresented and female students, to participate in the proposed research activities. The goal is to extend the learning environment beyond the classroom, motivate the student interests and improve the retention in STEM fields via interacting with experienced researchers. The proposed education and outreach activities will help cultivate a high-tech environment in Ohio and Pennsylvania, two of the rust-belt states in the nation, and directly impact revitalization of high-tech industry through science education. This instrument is expected to advance cellular and molecular biology research, and become a useful tool for the scientific communities in Northeastern Ohio, Pennsylvania and the nation. Other societal benefits include improving biodefense, protecting the environment and facilitating disease diagnosis and prognosis.

The proposed instrument will advance the field of biomolecule detection for the following innovations and capabilities. First, with the unique design of micropillar cartridges through molecular recognition, measurement of biomolecules can be converted to digital signals. The digital counting does not need tedious calibration curves or involve signal decay. Thus, the measurement will be more robust and reliable. Secondly, one target biomolecule can in principle be represented by one digital spike, which holds great potential for digital detection of biomolecules of ultra-low abundance, at single-molecule resolution. This ultra-high resolution and digitization capability are difficult to achieve with current state-of-the-art methods. Thirdly, this instrument will be a promising universal platform for detecting a broad range of biomolecules. Fourthly, this instrument will enable rapid detection of multiple biomolecules simultaneously by using multiple cartridges. Fifthly, the sensors will have a long shelf life and allow for field applications since the sensors are tolerant of harsh environments. An instrument with these unique capabilities is currently unavailable. This sensitive instrument holds great promise for the analysis of various biomolecules from small-size samples. Thus, it can be utilized to advance many biological research areas including, but not limited to, cell signaling, stem cell biology, neuroscience, tissue engineering, and cell metabolism.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Effective start/end date9/1/198/31/23


  • National Science Foundation: $180,000.00


Explore the research topics touched on by this project. These labels are generated based on the underlying awards/grants. Together they form a unique fingerprint.