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$2.3M AIM project to develop pathogen sensors

30 Mar 2017

US Department of Defense supporting Rochester-led consortium working on integrated photonic devices.

The American Institute for Manufacturing Integrated Photonics (AIM Photonics) public-private partnership is funding a project to develop optical sensors for detecting harmful pathogens including biological weapons.

With support from the US Department of Defense (DoD), as well as US Army and Navy Research Laboratory involvement, a research team led by Ben Miller at the University of Rochester will work on devices with potential applications across environmental monitoring, disease diagnosis, detection of chemical and biological weapons, and food safety.

The DoD is contributing $900,000 to the effort, with $1.41 million coming from AIM Photonics' industrial members. Ortho-Clinical Diagnostics, Analog Photonics, the University of Tulsa, PhoeniX, the University of California-Santa Barbara, and OndaVia are the other partners involved.

Universal protocols
While much of the AIM effort has thus far been devoted to the development of integrated optics and silicon photonics technology for advancing optical communications, initial support for the program came via the DoD and with expectations of defense-applicable work.

John Maggiore, chairman of the New York State Photonics Board of Officers, said in a release from AIM:

“When you consider the impact these sensors will have in immediately diagnosing illness, rapidly detecting foodborne pathogens, instantly assessing water and air quality, and ensuring the security of our citizens, you then realize the significance of AIM Photonics and how the technology we are developing is nothing short of a revolution.”

Miller, whose research group has previously worked on chip-based arrayed imaging reflectometry (AIR) and photonic bandgap sensors, added:

“Sensors represent the interface between the real world and data. Developing a universal set of protocols to design, manufacture, modify, and integrate sensors into photonics systems will not only advance this technology, but also present a tremendous economic opportunity.”

Miller says that integrated photonics sensors represent a large and rapidly growing market, potentially worth more than $15 billion globally by the end of the decade.

The professor, who holds positions at Rochester’s departments of Dermatology and Biomedical Engineering and the Institute of Optics, is also academic lead for AIM Photonics' sensors Key Technology Manufacturing Area (KTMA) on sensors.

Mix and match
Specifically, the new project will focus on developing manufacturing blueprints for photonics-based transducers - the element of the device that interacts with the pathogen or target molecule in question.

Ultimately, it is envisaged that such components will be mixed and matched by manufacturers to build systems capable of identifying a wide range of chemical or biological targets.

Miniaturized and multiplexed photonics sensors would enable systems that can scan for multiple biological or chemical agents simultaneously.

“This approach could give rise to new technologies such as a ‘lab-on-a-chip’, that would allow researchers and clinicians to scan for several different proteins in a single blood sample, or enable municipalities to continuously monitor drinking water for dangerous toxins,” suggested AIM.

The program's CEO Michael Liehr said: “Integrated photonics is a key piece of the 21st century technology revolution. Sensors enabled with the power of integrated photonics will play an integral part of our lives by greatly improving the quality of life for future generations.”

This particular project will involve close collaboration between government, academic, industry researchers and engineers. Sensor modeling, design, and fabrication will take place at the AIM Photonics test, assembly, and packaging (TAP) facility at Eastman Business Park – hosted by image sensor firm ON Semiconductor – as well as at the University of Rochester Medical Center, and SUNY Polytechnic Institute.

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