Polythinkers Enhance Bio-sensing

Under the direction of Professors Stephen Arnold and Iwao Teraoka, undergraduate students at Polytechnic’s MicroParticle Photo-Physics Lab (MP3L) have created a unique biosensor of unprecedented sensitivity by utilizing the tendency of light to be drawn toward a dense material of nanoscopic dimension. Biosensor technology can enable investigators to detect extremely small amounts of chemical or biochemical agents in a biological medium. The student’s sensor will be used to identify ultra low level of proteins, DNA and viruses. This technology has many applications, especially in health and medical fields.

Three undergraduate students from different disciplines collaborated to enhance the sensor’s sensitivity limits. Jelena Culic-Viskota is studying chemical engineering (chemistry minor), and Momchil Mihnev is studying electrical engineering (mathematics minor). Ophir Gaathon has recently graduated in electrical engineering and has started his Ph.D. in Applied Physics at Columbia University. Their work was published in Applied Physics Letters on Nov 27, 2006 and was republished in the December 1, 2006 issue of American Physical Society’s Virtual Journal of Biological Physics Research.

Jelena is interested in the kinetics study of adsorption and desorption of proteins on the biosensor surface, while Momchil’s interests lie more in establishing optical means for lowering the sensitivity threshold of the biosensor. The students worked together to enhance the sensitivity of the whispering gallery mode biosensor by 700%, making the MP3L’s biosensor the most sensitive label free biosensor.

Apart from excelling academically, Jelena and Momchil are also active leaders in the Poly community. Jelena is the president of the National Engineering Honor Society (Tau Beta Pi NY Rho Chapter) and was the Vice President of Academics for the Student Council (2005/2006), as well as a tutor for the Polytechnic Tutoring Center (PTC) and a teaching assistant for the Mathematics Department. She was also co-captain of the women’s volleyball team last year. Momchil is the president of the Electrical Engineering Honor Society (Eta Kappa Nu), a member of the Tau Beta Pi and was a teaching assistant for the Mathematics Department.

Momchil and Jelena have both been members of the Othmer Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies Honors College and recipients of the Tau Beta Pi scholarships. Their thirst for knowledge and passion for research has led them to apply for PhD programs next fall.