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NSF Grant Funds Biosensing Laser Research

Yuze (Alice) Sun

Yuze “Alice” Sun (University of Texas, Arlington)

9 February 2016. An engineering professor at University of Texas in Arlington received a grant from National Science Foundation for research on lasers with fluid samples to detect indicators of disease. Yuze Sun, known as Alice, is the recipient of a $500,000 Faculty Early Career Development award from NSF, expected to run through 2020.

Sun’s research aims to apply laser technology to detect biomarkers, molecules specifically associated with diseases, in minute fluid samples, like those used on lab-on-a-chip devices. Lasers are used today for biosensing, but require semiconductors with solid substrates to create cavities that confine the light. Current laser biosensing technology also requires samples to be sent to remote labs for analysis with sophisticated equipment.

The NSF award supports Sun’s work in developing an optofluidic laser technology platform that enables lasers to work solely with fluid samples. The envisioned technology would be adaptable to the composition of samples being analyzed, yet also be biocompatible and return results quickly. A nanoscale layer of a material that amplifies the laser would interact with the fluid samples, and provide for enhanced and precise detection of biological and biochemical molecules.

The research aims to apply this technology to point-of-care diagnostics for detecting cancer, as well as other genetic disorders at the molecular level, without the time and expense of sending samples to a remote lab. “This could someday lead to the creation of a point-of-care platform for clinicians to use in an office,” says Sun in a university statement, “rather than having to send samples away for analysis.”

The project includes outreach to under-represented minority students, taking advantage of UT-Arlington’s status as a minority-serving institution. The grant also supports recruitment and retention of women to engineering, as well as dissemination of research discoveries to high school students and other engineering teachers.

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