AMES - We often hear about nanotechnology. It refers to very small forms of things, at a molecular level or even smaller.
At Iowa State University, they've spent the past three years developing their latest experiment in nanotechnology, and it's a project with wide-ranging applications.
"We're actually making something that could actually be incorporated into industry," said John Hondred, a graduate student at ISU. "So, anything from a low cost pesticide sensor to be used in a farm field to a medical screening sensor that a doctor may use. "
ISU is breaking this new ground, thanks in part to this special graphene-based ink.
"That makes the opportunity for us to create flexible electronics, but also ones on paper that are disposable," said professor Jonathan Claussen, who has overseen the research for the last three years.
"And since these are just carbon-based electronics, they are environmentally friendly."
During that time, they've created super hydrophobic---or water-repellant electrodes---to do the tests.
"That super hydrophobic surface helps prevent bio-filing from all the contaminants that might be in a saliva sample or a soil sample," explained Claussen.
Eventually, they'd like to incorporate that new technology into washable and wearable materials.
"We have watches or wearables that do mechanical measurements like heart rate or steps, and we're trying to make biochemical measurements to find out what molecules are in fluids like sweat and what has been depleted in these fluids," said Claussen.
"The printed graphene ink is made superhydrophobic with a laser treatment that also roughens up the the graphene surface to make it more electrically conductive and catalytic. Hence this laser makes the printed graphene into a very sensitive sensor. That's especially important, especially when we want to screen for cancer. We want to find protein concentrations that are very low and this graphene sensor enables that."
Their work could eventually make its way to hospitals---or to help athletes train and recover.
"Whether it's screening when you go to the hospital, or any kind of medical situation where you need to find a molecule of interest," said Hondred.
The school says there's one other neat application for the project. It could be used to help de-ice airplanes.
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