Engineering team receives Navy grant for biosensing research

A team of engineers from Washington University in St. Louis has received a $394,000 3-year grant from the Office of Naval Research; funding that will allow them to investigate the possibility of integrating optical and electrical sensing modalities. It’s hoped the new research might one day help develop new and more effective ways to detect explosives and other environmental threats.

The team, led by Srikanth Singamaneni, associate professor of Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science and Barani Raman, associate professor of Biomedical Engineering, both in the School of Engineering & Applied Science at Washington University in St. Louis, will also examine and combine olfactory receptors from insects with gold nanoparticles. One of the goals is to study the interface between the biological receptors with synthetic nanostructures. If the biological receptors can be kept stable and active when fused to the nanoparticles, the new materials could be used as a detection agent for explosives or for chemicals that could be used in a biological attack.

The research is an off-shoot of work also funded by the Office of Naval Research, which involves accessing the olfactory systems of locusts, outfitting them with backpacks that read their neural activity, and affixing them with nanoparticle sensing tattoos for remote-controlled locomotion, essentially transforming them into bomb detecting cyborgs or bio-robots. The collaborative project involving Singamaneni, Raman and colleague Shantanu Chakrabartty, professor of Electrical & Systems Engineering, received international attention earlier this summer.

“What’s different in this research is that we’re focusing only on the olfactory receptors of the animal, instead of the entire locust or insect,” Singamaneni said. “We’re interested in combining optical and electrical sensing modalities, examining the information, and seeing if there’s anything new to be gleaned that could have a practical application when it comes to chemical and explosive detection.”