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Nanomechanical Sensor Detects and Identifies Chemical Analytes

Oak Ridge National Laboratory

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Technology Marketing SummaryORNL researchers developed a cost-efficient nanomechanical sensor that can
detect chemicals adsorbed to a surface and then quickly analyze and identify
those chemicals. The device is a significant improvement over current detection
technologies, which are not able to perform reliable identification. Rapid
identification of trace amounts of chemicals(e.g., polymers, explosives) is important
for ensuring safety in pharmaceutical, transportation, and other sectors.

The invention takes advantage of the unique “thermal fingerprint,” or the thermal
response of individual chemicals to high heat, to identify their properties. The device
can evaluate the purity of pharmaceuticals, investigate the temperature-dependent
properties of very small (sub-nanogram) quantities of polymers, and detect and
identify explosives. It can also quickly identify a potentially harmful chemical.

The invention’s sensitivity and selectivity open up new possibilities for a single
sensor–based technique that does not use a chemoselective layer for sensing. This
method may also provide a technique for investigating thermally induced properties
of a wide range of materials, far beyond what is possible by conventional techniques.
  • Detection and identification of adsorbed chemicals
  • Detection of sub-nanogram (less than a billionth of a gram) amounts of materials without relying on receptors or separation methods
  • Operation with a continuously repeated process, without resorting to chemical cleaning techniques after each thermal cycle
  • Sized for easy integration into a hand-held devices
Applications and Industries
  • Detecting and identifying individual explosives
  • Detecting and identifying nonexplosive chemicals
  • Investigating the oxidative stability of chemical analytes
  • Evaluating the purity of pharmaceuticals
  • Investigating the temperature-dependent properties of sub-nanogram quantities of polymers
More InformationPatent
Dechang Yi, Lawrence R. Senesac, and Thomas G. Thundat, Sensor for Detecting and Differentiating Chemical Analytes, U.S. Patent Application 12/198,580, filed August 26, 2008.

Lead Inventor
Dechang Yi
Biosciences Division
Oak Ridge Associated Universities

Patents and Patent Applications
ID Number
Title and Abstract
Primary Lab
Patent 7,972,865
Sensor for detecting and differentiating chemical analytes
A sensor for detecting and differentiating chemical analytes includes a microscale body having a first end and a second end and a surface between the ends for adsorbing a chemical analyte. The surface includes at least one conductive heating track for heating the chemical analyte and also a conductive response track, which is electrically isolated from the heating track, for producing a thermal response signal from the chemical analyte. The heating track is electrically connected with a voltage source and the response track is electrically connected with a signal recorder. The microscale body is restrained at the first end and the second end and is substantially isolated from its surroundings therebetween, thus having a bridge configuration.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory 07/05/2011
Technology Status
Technology IDDevelopment StageAvailabilityPublishedLast Updated

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To: Nestor Fronco<>