Silicon photonic sensors and actuators for biological systems

Lead Research Organisation: University of Manchester
Department Name: Electrical and Electronic Engineering


The aim of Silicon photonics is nothing less than the complete convergence of optics and electronics. In the first instance this endeaviour was aimed at oversoming the limitations imposed by nature in the transport of information using electrons. However, the work has already thrown up more general optical technologies which can be minaturised onto silicon chips. In fact, engineers are slowly building a whole optics toolbox on silicon, including detectors, modulators and spectrometers. The international consortium assembled for the current work have already made significant progress in providing the long sought after on-chip light source. The feasibility studies proposed here are aimed at building on the existing expertise found in the consortium and elsewhere to apply these technologies to the optical detection and manipulation of single biomolecules in a way than can be miniaturised giving devices that have such functionalities on a silicon chip. The impact of the work will be enhanced by the fact that the approaches used are compatible with those used during the manufacture of standard silicon chips and that the end products can be mass produced (at costs measured in cents per unit) for personalised health care applications in every home, doctor's surgery/pharmacist; for the detection of low level atmosphere or water born pollutants or for counter terrorism/military applications

Planned Impact

The beneficiaries of the devices technologies proposed will be anyone who needs cheap (potentially hand held) DNA/chemical analysis; i.e. cheap personal medicince in the pharmacist/doctors surgery, those involved in fighting crime/terrorism, environmental monitorers, food scientists etc. But the basic technologies to be explored may go beyond this. For example the integration of THz/GHz spectroscopy onto a chip using silicon photonic approaches and standard telecoms lasers, this technology could lead to sensors of the type described above, it could also give a mean for chip designers to convert information into RF transmission and receive them again either on the cheap concerned or a nearby chip enabling both new RF sensors as well as intra or inter chip communication. This could have profound implication for chip design as well as local area networks to the benefit of nearly every use of information technology. In terms of benefits to the UK, There are several silicon foundries in the UK (e.g. diode, filtronics and Bookham) that are in position to licence the technology and produce the devices designs to be studied. There is also a very strong biotech presence in the UK to interact with on issues relating to device operation/performance. The market for Biosensor/electronics is predicted to reach 8.2Bn in 2009. These devices are relatively primitive in comparison to the technologies under consideration here and the potential market for hand-held rapid DNA sensing could be relied on to comfortable exceed this by itself for cheap, mass produced, devices. The establishment of such an industry in the UK would clearly have a strong impact on our international economic competitiveness. The societal impacts are also potentially wide ranging with the potential for impact in health care within the NHS, and the general quality of life. In the field of crime fighting it would allow the rapid identification of biological/chemical samples at the crime scene as well as potentially giving genetic information on samples. In terms of the time scales for these benefits to be realised, again the use of CMOS compatible technologies makes the times scales short compared to other approaches. Indeed there is no reason to think that devices commercial could not be produced within a few years of a successful device being demonstrated. The three universities involved Surrey/Manchester/McMaster already have a memorandum of understanding with respect to the existing three way intellectual property filing on novel methods for implantation of rare-earths into oxides. They are also currently in the process of proving the technique as a prelude to starting a anglo-canadian spin out company whose activity will centre on the supply of silicon optoelectronic devices fabricated by ion-beam processing. This commercialization process involves the intellectual property arms of all three Universities all of which have excellent records in commercialising the outputs of their universities research. As an example of the processes being followed both Surrey and Manchester recently received awards from EPSRC under the knowledge transfer account scheme, Manchester received 8m (the biggest award by EPSRC to an University) and Surrey 4m. The applicants are in discussion to access proof of principle funding from the scheme. In addition the University of Manchester Premier fund (UMPF) is one of the largest university venture capital funds in the world standing at around 30m. The applicants have already met with representatives of this fund with positive results and hope to receive substantial venture capital investment into their company from this source. Obviously this company could provide the ideal vehicle vehicle to commercialise the results of the proposed work.
Description The optical properties of graphene were studied as a possible actuator in silicon photonics, this contributed to the award of the noble prize to the physics group in 2011
Exploitation Route functionlization of surfaces with graphene
Sectors Chemicals,Electronics,Healthcare,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology