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The Washington Research Foundation Fellowship

Todd Duncombe, Electrical Engineering - 2009-10 WRF/Space Grant

Buckley Kate photoSince I was young I have always been enamored with the idea of being a person who, wielding only knowledge of how the world works could innovate and create new things. So it was no surprise that I sought out a research position early on in my education. I started working in Professor Karl Böhringer's Micro Electro Mechanical Systems (MEMS) Lab over 30 months ago, and it has been a life changing experience. For the first several months I was mentored by a Post Doctorate Researcher, but when he abruptly left for industry I took over the project relating to a droplet transport Lab-on-a-Chip technology, which I have worked on ever since. My undergraduate research has been littered with extraordinary opportunities and experiences which have positively shaped me both as scientist and as an adult. My most memorable experiences have been the ones that sent me abroad. Two summers ago I conducted research at the University of Tokyo, and last winter I presented a paper at a conference in Sorrento, Italy. This winter I will present another paper in Hong Kong.

At the end of this academic year I will graduate with an Electrical Engineering degree with an emphasis on Biomedical instrumentation. I plan on pursuing a PhD in Bioengineering and would like my thesis to be related to Biomedical Devices / Bio-MEMS.

Mentor: Karl Böhringer, Electrical Engineering

Project Title: An Ultra-Sensitive Diagnostic Device for the Developing World

Abstract: Advancement of lab-on-a-chip technology over the last decade has opened the eyes of both scientists and philanthropists alike at the potential of portable medicine. The robust, low power consumption lab-on-a-chip device I am currently researching combines immunoassay and electrochemical detection of nanoparticles within a micro-channel in the hope of developing a portable diagnostic device. Immunoassay is a promising approach in diagnostics due to the high specificity of the antigen-antibody binding mechanism. The most prevalent method for the detection of the immuno-complexation, formed when the antigen and antibody hybridize, is fluorescence microscopy. While the use of fluorescence markers is exceptionally useful for detection in a lab it is not well suited for a portable device. We propose an alternate method which can be done completely inside a micro-channel, using electrochemically detectible nanoparticles. The working principle of our device requires the use of two nanoparticles, one nanoparticle functions to immobilize the antigen against an electrode, while the other tags antigens with a corresponding metallic electrochemically detectible nanoparticle. The first of these steps will be achieved by an induced magnetic field and a magnetic nanoparticle. The second nanoparticle will be detected through the common electrochemical procedure Scanning Voltammetric Analysis (SVA). In SVA a metal is deposited and stripped from the surface of an electrode, while the amount of current induced during stripping is linearly related to the concentration of the metal in the micro-channel. In our detection system, where each metallic nanoparticle corresponds to the presence of one antigen, the number of antigens in the micro- channel can be extrapolated from the SVA current measurement.