Guest post by Patrick Dussault, NSF messanger workshop Medical diagnostics, airport security, and personal health kits all require more selective and more sensitive diagnostic devices. Researchers in Nebraska are pursuing nanohybrid materials which hold tremendous potential in this regard. Nanomaterials-objects with dimensions a million times smaller than the tip of s pencil - often have properties that are remarkably different from bulk scale materials (as a very simple example, think of the differences between a block of wood and sawdust). As a result of these differences, it is often possible for scientists to selectively see what is happening at the surface of nanoparticles. surface of nanoparticles. These differences often allow one to selectively look at nanomaterial surfaces. However, nanomaterial surfaces are not always choosy in what they bind. At the same time, molecules and assemblies such as antibodies (the same agents that our bodies used to suppress infections) often display remarkable sensitivity in their ability to recognize or even bind (grab) microbes or toxins. However, it can prove very difficult to detect this binding, bringing to mind the old adage "if a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, did it fall?"
The Center for Nanohybrid Functional Materials, a newly funded NSF-funded center involving fourteen researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the University of Nebraska Medical Center, Creighton University, the University of Nebraska-Kearney, and Doane University will pursue the idea that new classes of sensors and diagnostic devices will be possible for "nanohybrid" materials- a new class of materials which combine nanoparticles with functional materials such as antibodies. The unique properties of the nanomaterials, combined with the proven recognition abilities of species such as antibodies, are likely to result in entirely new sensing principles and, hopefully, new sensors and diagnostic devices.