Virus-sensing chip inspired by butterfly wings

Monday, 25 October, 2021

Virus-sensing chip inspired by butterfly wings

Inspired by butterfly wings, an international research team has discovered a new way to concentrate light on a chip, which could potentially lead to faster, more accurate molecular or virus tests — including for COVID-19.

Led by Professor Baohua Jia from Swinburne University of Technology and Distinguished Professor Yuri Kivshar from the Australian National University (ANU), the team has solved one of the most persistent challenges in the study and engineering of light at nanoscale (known as nanophotonics): light field enhancement at a nanoscale, or how to produce huge light energy on a minuscule scale. Their work has been published in the journal Nano Letters.

Butterfly wings are made up of thousands of layers of tiny scales. When light hits a butterfly wing, it travels through those layers, and each layer has a concentrating effect.

The researchers set to work designing and fabricating a nanophotonic chip that mimicked the structure of a Bicyclus butterfly wing; 3D laser nanoprinting took place in Swinburne’s Advanced Manufacturing and Design Centre. With the chip in hand, they deposited a testing sample on top and found they had uncovered a way to manipulate space and time to concentrate light precisely as they pleased.

The team’s discovery enables the creation of ultracompact sensing chips, just 100 µm in size, with apparently unprecedented sensitivity for detecting pathogens. With faster and more accurate molecular detection in blood and saliva, the chips would vastly improve our ability to test and track viruses, reducing the chance of community transmission of contagious viruses. They could also play an important role in preventative health by revolutionising how surplus sugars and other anomalies in the blood are detected.

Because concentrated light has the power to pick up fewer pathogenic cells, this means everything can be scaled right down — wait times, sample sizes and testing materials. With less wastage, it’s a sustainability win too.

“We think this breakthrough will bring new possibilities and opportunities into this entire field,” said Dr Yao Liang, first author on the study, from ANU and Swinburne.

Prof Jia added, “We are looking forward to developing more applications based on this technology in the near future.”

Image credit: ©

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