A Quick and Portable Way to Detect Biochemicals in the World Around You

A Quick and Portable Way to Detect Biochemicals in the World Around You

You don’t need to be at a university or work in your own laboratory to be able to conduct research in the world around you. PlasmonLAB has created an amazing device that lets you be able to detect different molecules in 10 minutes or less! Imagine the implications that this device can have for identifying bacteria in water, or monitoring environmental health?

Find out more about this device, and learn how the makers came up with the idea and are getting it into market.

Company Name: PlasmonLAB

Product: PlasmonLAB

Number of Founders: 2

  1. What problem is your project trying to solve?

PlasmonLAB, provides a quick and portable way to detect the presence of viruses, drugs, bacteria, DNA or any other biochemical molecule in just about anything, be it blood, air, water, food, or clothing.

Want to know if your milk has bovine growth hormone in it, if an environmental pollutant may be lurking in your rain water, or if your parent has snuck spinach in your soup? This device lets students and educators know within minutes.

It takes a technique that has so far been limited to a handful of high-tech research labs and puts the capability in the hands of everyday users, from educators and scientists to kids at home, opening up whole new avenues of research possibilities to the broader DIY citizen scientist community.

  1. How does your solution solve this problem in a new innovative way? Does it rely on other previously developed technologies?

Surface plasmon resonance for biodetection has been around since the 1990s. But all of the instruments being made today are very, very expensive and complicated. It’s as if the only computers being made were supercomputers and personal computers were not available.

PlasmonLAB takes the same core science, but bundles it into an inexpensive “plug and play” platform borne out of the Maker movement. The electronics and computing power for the system are based on the Arduino and Raspberry Pi. The optical core module is manufactured with 3-D printing. The other hardware and printed circuit boards are manufactured with small computer-controlled milling machines.

Where other biochemical methods detect the interactions of molecules indirectly, by tagging the probe molecules with fluorescent dyes in a sequence of steps that generally occurs over a period of hours or days, this system identifies molecules in a two-step process that takes ~10 minutes to complete: five minutes to prep the sample and five minutes to test and receive the results.

Fewer experimental variables means less chance for error and faster detection speeds frees students to spend less time time carrying out tests and more time analyzing the results

Just as PCs, smart phones and the cloud put robust computing power in the hands of everyone, PlasmonLAB does the same for bio-science, giving curious minds everywhere access to sophisticated technology but in an inexpensive and highly usable format.

  1. What was the spark that started the idea for this project? What steps did you have to take (or are taking) to make it a reality?

The spark started a few years ago when I went back to school after working in Silicon Valley to pursue a graduate degree in electrical engineering. Initially, I had the idea to build an evanescent-wave biosensor, but then my graduate project advisor, Mark Cronin-Golomb, introduced me to the science of surface plasmon resonance and I was hooked. Evanescent waves interact with bio-molecules, but surface plasmons multiply the effect and make for a much more sensitive detector.

After I completed the project, I started thinking about how I could build a surface plasmon resonance sensor that was better than the one I used. I saw that, in general, a sensor that was simpler and easier to use would be an improvement. But it was not clear that an improved sensor would be of any use to anyone until the rise of the DIY bio community and the citizen science community. This device democratises the technology.

  1. What has been the most rewarding part of the process?

The aspect of being able to start with a concept and be really creative with it. It’s being able build an instrument around a physical phenomenon from the ground up. This may be one of the most misunderstood aspects about technology and engineering. Some people don’t realize that it’s possible to get the same thrill of creativity in technology that people get from being an artist or writer.

  1. What has been the most difficult part of the process?

It can also be difficult when starting a project with a blank sheet of paper, to give up on cool parts of the technology. The author William Faulkner said, “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.” What this translates to is that in any design project the path to the end may not be a straight line. A lot of effort can be spent developing features of the technology that you end up having to cut out to make a robust, usable product.

  1. What advice would you give to youth who are interested in entrepreneurship?

Two things. One,  communicate with as many people as you can. You will learn surprising things in places you didn’t expect to. You will also learn things from yourself. Having to explain your ideas can clarify and make connections you never knew existed.

The second is a piece of advice that I am stealing from Adam Savage from the television show “Mythbusters” that I truly believe, If I’m recounting what he said correctly, It’s that the advice “Do what you love, and the money will follow” is bad advice. His advice was find some useful, cool skill that you really love and get really good at it. Then you will not only have that skill, but you will find out that you will be better at picking up other skills. The point is to find out what you love and get good at it, so you can make a difference in the world.

To find our more information about this company, their technology, or just to get in contact with them check out:

Email: plasmonlab@comcast.net

Website: www.plasmonlab.com

Kickstarter Page: http://kck.st/1thLjF0