Nano labs of the future

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Tiny tech packs a big punch

Monash University researcher Debabrata Sikdar has developed tiny cubic nano-antennae, which function like spotlights on a nanoscale, that will have far-reaching applications in biomedicine and, more importantly, in integrated bio-sensing devices aptly dubbed “lab-on-a-chip”.

According to biotechnology experts, the nano-antennae have potential to measure food safety, identify pollutants in the air and even quickly diagnose and treat diseases like cancer.

“Similar to spotlights, the new cubic antennas can generate ultra-narrow directional beams to focus light at a micro or nanoscale with precise control over direction and beam width,” Sikdar explained.

“The nanoscale directed beams of light incorporated in lab-on-a-chip devices can feature as an illumination source in microfluidic analysis or as minute deflection registers in nano-cantilever based sensors to assist in measuring bacterial levels in food or beverages, to help identify airborne pollutants, or even support quick diagnosis of deadly diseases like HIV and cancer.”

“The technology may also find application in other nanoscale mechanisms, such as in ultra-sensitive force detection using minute deflection nanoscale registers or even in providing light-powered spinning devices to drive micro-machines,” Sikdar explained.

Simple in design and easy to fabricate, the nano-cube antennas are composed of insulating materials, rather than conducting or semiconducting materials as has been the practice for antennas to date.

 

“They are particularly suited for integrated optics-based biosensors to detect proteins, DNA, antibodies, enzymes, in truly portable lab-on-a-chip platforms of the future,” Sikdar told Indian Link.

“They also have the potential to stimulate many integrated optics-based multidisciplinary research and applications,” he added.

Working more efficiently than previous spherical models and preventing any loss due to scattering or heating, these unidirectional cubic nanoantennas can induce directionality in the output from omnidirectional nanoscale light sources and generate steerable adjustable ultra-narrow focused light beams, according to the Clayton based researcher.

The main purpose of the technology, he added, is to find a novel class of material where one can engineer their electric and artificial magnetic resonances to generate uni-directional light radiation patterns, while minimising losses due to heating and unwanted scattering of visible and near infrared light.

Sikdar’s findings were published in the Journal of Applied Physics earlier this year.

Hailing from northeast Indian state of Tripura, Sikdar has a degree in Electronics and Instrumentation from the prestigious BITS Pilani as well as double Masters in Physics and Communication Engineering. He won the Victoria India Doctoral Scholarship (VIDS) in 2012 for doctoral research in the emerging field of plasmonics.

During his research studies, Sikdar, whose passion is nano electro mechanical systems (NEMS) and optical communication, realised that solutions to the big technological bottlenecks could only be found by working with nanotechnology, as the science and the nature of these tiny little things has immense potential to revolutionise any technology of the future.

Sikdar and his colleagues, Malin Premaratne and Wenlong Cheng, plan to begin constructing unidirectional cubic NEMS antennas in the near future at the Melbourne Centre for Nanofabrication.

“We would like to collaborate with other research groups across the world, making all these wonders possible,” he said.

Spurred by his success, Sikdar also hopes to encourage and inspire young minds in India and Australia to choose a research career.

“This rewarding pathway throws up exciting new challenges every day and immense work satisfaction where through your research output you can give something back to society.”