Almost as sensitive as a dog’s nose

Using carbon nanotubes, a research team led by Professor Hyung Gyu Park in collaboration with Dr. Tiziana Bond has developed a sensor that greatly amplifies the sensitivity of commonly used but typically weak vibrational spectroscopic methods, such as Raman spectroscopy. This type of sensor makes it possible to detect molecules present in the tiniest of concentrations. Peter Rüegg The basis of the high-sensitivity sensor are carbon nanotubes having curved tips. The numerous gaps let through the Raman scattered light. (Illustration: H.G. Park / ETH Zurich) Scientists at ETH Zurich and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in California have developed an innovative sensor for surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy (SERS). Thanks to its unique surface properties at nanoscale, the method can be used to perform analyses that are more reliable, sensitive and cost-effective. In experiments with the new sensor, the researchers were able to detect a certain organic species (1,2bis(4-pyridyl)ethylene, or BPE) in a concentration of a few hundred femtomoles per litre. A 100 femtomolar solution contains around 30 trillionth of a gram of this organic species in one liter of solution. Until now, the detection limit of common SERS systems was in the nanomolar range, i.e. some millionth of a gram

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