In 1955 while addressing the National Academy of Sciences Richard Feynman stated "Scientific knowledge is a body of statements of varying degrees of certainty." As usual, Feynman's statement was spot on, and holds true decades later. In his famous "Plenty of Room at the Bottom" lecture Feynman talked about what we now call nanotechnology, and all the different applications. Here I am, half a century later, working "at the bottom" and living in a world of uncertainty. I hope to share some of the exciting discoveries at the nanoscale and explain how they apply to my passion of biotechnology- as well as the everyday world. Learn more about Nicholas Fahrenkopf
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To be honest, most of today I was preoccupied getting ready for my talk in the afternoon. But, to take my mind of it I still tried to attend talks. I feel like sometimes conferences are hit or miss. Sometimes you could walk into a 15 minute contributed talk and be blown away. But other times the 30 minute invited talks could be a literature review or incremental research. A lot of the talks I went to today were incremental talks. It was a lot of “the field is at point A and we’ve brought it to A + dA”. So I heard about thin film transistors which could be useful for wearable electronics, but I didn’t feel like it was anything new. I heard another nanowire sensor talk, but again, nothing revolutionary.
(Side note: sorry for the delay for the last two days- traveling home and getting back to work through a wrench in things. Day 4 is coming soon with an added bonus of good food in Boston!)
I did attend a talk about metastatic cancer sensing which was interesting. It has been shown that interdigitated electrodes in fluid can be used to analyze cells on those electrodes via impedance methods. I think it was also previously established that cancer cells respond to stress differently than normal cells. So, what they did was show that if you put cancer and normal cells on these electrodes and stress them you can detect the differential response. Essentially, the cancer cell would swell more than the normal cell and you can detect the change in size and therefore if you have a cancer cell or a normal cell. I thought this was pretty neat, but it would seem difficult to integrate into a useful diagnostic device.
I had a break in my schedule between talks I wanted to see so I stepped out for a bit to buy a (losing) PowerBall ticket, and check out the Microsoft store. The store was really cool, but I’ll try to stick to the science! After my break I saw a talk from a professor from Tokyo that I usually cite a lot in my work. In fact, one of my “go-to” introduction figures is from one of his papers. Putting a face to a name that you read a lot about is always cool, and hearing their research is even cooler. Basically, when I read about DNA FET sensing his name comes up a lot. Today he was talking about using the FET sensors to monitor changes in cellular respiration. They had two sensors with the same type of cells on them. One set got starvation media, the other regular media. From there they monitored the change in the electrical properties of the two devices while also monitoring the cells optically. This was really cool, but I’m not sure how you can really be sure what you’re measuring since there is so much happening on and in a cell. It was only a 15 minute talk though so we can’t really get into too much detail.
After lunch (and an invited speaker) I was up to present one of the new projects I’ve been working on. We were doing some novel DNA detection, but the real importance of our research was that we were making significant movement towards mass production of DNA sensors. I wasn’t really excited about the amount and quality of the data I had to present (it’s rather preliminary) but I still thought it was pretty cool that we were making these sensors in a production environment. That is, these sensors were made on 300mm wafers (no one has EVER made biosensors on 300mm wafers) using cutting edge process flows (the kind of technology Intel used in their JUST released 2012 Sandy Bridge processors) on the same tools that semiconductor companies use. However, it didn’t seem like anyone else was impressed. After I finished my talk I got crickets. Not a peep from anyone. Not even a courtesy question from the session chair. It was kind of disheartening, but I guess that’s how it goes sometimes.
After my talk there were two presentations from different groups about using solid state sensors on the brain. This was another side project I worked on a few years ago. Interfacing electronics with the brain has been around for a while but only recently with advanced in microfabrication has there been so much success. In our case (again a few years ago) our collaborators were interfacing with mouse brains using silicon “spears” that had electrodes on them. Our work had been to incorporate microfluidics to deliver drugs that would combat the wound healing response (apparently brains don’t like little spears being poked into them). Anyways, these two talks were going about the brain-computer interface through two different methods. One was drawing out an insulated wire into a smaller wire, then bundling many of them together and drawing them out again. That way they ended up with a long cable that ended with many electrodes evenly spaced but very close together. The other method was using microfabricated electrodes. What was different about these electrodes was that they were actually raised cantilevers off of the surface of the device. This group had a decent amount of data showing that they were able to record from different cells at the same time- some of the sensors were on the surface of the device and others were raised.
Today I had a late dinner so I didn’t get to the poster session until late, and by then some people were starting to pack up. Not as many interesting posters this evening.
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