NSF Grant to Support University-Business Partnership
Nano-porous silicon membranes developed at the University of Rochester's Hajim School of Engineering and Applied Sciences will soon be used to manufacture portable devices that can analyze DNA in remote settings.
A $600,000 grant from the National Science Foundation will fund a partnership among Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering James McGrath, SiMPore, Rochester Institute of Technology, and Integrated Nanotechnologies (INT) to fabricate the devices.
A key component will be filters made of the super-thin silicon membranes. The filters being used today are sponge-like and about 1,000 times thicker than the nanomembranes.
"The thicker the membrane, the less efficiently they work as a filter," said McGrath, who helped invent the super-thin membranes. "Our membranes are one-molecule thick with tiny holes capable of quickly separating particles close in size."
The super-thin filters are manufactured by SiMPore, a University-based start-up company founded by McGrath and colleagues. McGrath's team is working to integrate the filters into INT's components to create the highly portable, chip-based devices.
At present, pathogen-testing is done by machines that are about the size of an office printer, but the collaborators hope to create microchip-sized versions the device as part of the grant effort. Such a tiny device could be inexpensive and taken into the field for military use and for third world medicine.
McGrath sees the University/industry grant as part of a growing trend. "The National Science Foundation and other federal funding groups want to support public-private partnerships that can energize the economy and create jobs," he said.
Integrated Nano-Technologies is a high-tech firm in the Rochester area that develops systems for detecting and identifying small quantities of biological materials.