National Science Foundation grant to help researcher develop low-cost, hand-held device to test, identify diseases, biohazards : University of Dayton, Ohio


A University of Dayton researcher will lead a nearly half-million-dollar National Science Foundation project to develop a low-cost, handheld device for testing and identifying diseases and biological threats.

“Current benchtop devices retail for more than $100,000 and you can probably only have one in a clinic,” said Swapnajit Chakravarty, associate professor of electro-optics and photonics. “We’re trying to make something handy, portable, and commercially available right off the shelf that anyone can buy for $100 to $200.”

Chakravarty said the key to reducing costs is that the sensor can use a single-wavelength laser, rather than more expensive wavelength-tunable lasers.

“A single-wavelength laser only costs about $50 to $60. But the challenge is aligning the laser with the sensor, which can be an extremely tiny target in a device like this,” he said. “This project will help address the challenge of integrating the laser and detector on one chip, at a commercial scale, which will be less expensive than typical optics packaging.”

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While the COVID-19 pandemic has shown the need for these types of tests, according to the NSF Abstract, Chakravarty said a device like this could also be used to identify pollutants in water or cancer or illegal drugs by the laser “seeing.” ‘, what is in a drop of blood or saliva or in a person’s breath. The sample would be placed on what looks like a USB drive and then plugged into the portable device, he added. The results would appear in a few minutes.

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The project will include UD and undergraduate students, as well as students from Dayton Early College Academy, who will help Chakravarty conduct the experiments. He hopes that getting students involved early will help spark interest in the semiconductor industry and eventually fill the pipeline of workers.

“Students are exposed to an innovation ecosystem with hands-on science and technology experience. The project will help meet the significant current need to build a US-based semiconductor chip design and manufacturing workforce,” the NSF summary reads.

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The University of Dayton will receive nearly $338,000 for the three-year project. Partner University of North Texas will receive nearly $160,000 and will also involve middle and high school students in Denton, Texas in the project. Bibhudutta Rout, Associate Professor of Physics, will lead the project at the University of North Texas.

Any middle and high schools interested in being part of the project or anyone interested in learning more can contact Swapnajit Chakravarty at [email protected]

Read the NSF abstract about the project here.

For interviews, contact Shawn Robinson, Associate Director of News and Communications, at [email protected]



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