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Magnetic Nanodisks Will Speed the Analysis of Biochemicals

July 15, 2009

An engineering researcher at The University of Texas at Arlington is developing a new tool for professionals in biological and biomedical research fields to quickly and accurately identify the chemical makeup of biological samples. The process involves the introduction of magnetic nanodisks that attract the various organic molecules in the sample.

Assistant Professor of Materials Science and Engineering Dr. Yaowu Hao is using a three-year, $310,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to further his development of his proposed sample separation process using a magnetic field instead of the widely-used electrophoresis process that employs an electric field.

The separation of any material into its constitutive parts is an important part of any biochemical analysis. All molecules have a natural small electrical charge, so inducing an electric charge will cause them to separate into identifiable groups. However, electrical fields can create an interference with some biomaterials. The magnetic field separations proposed by Dr. Hao do not interfere with biological processes and materials and can be applied externally without physical contact with the magnet or the carrier liquid or gel.

Dr. Hao’s nanodisks consist of several layers of materials, much like a stack of wafers. One of the unique and important features of this magnetic separation process is that the multi-layered nanodisks can be made to attach to specific biomaterials. This is accomplished by using top and bottom layers of an inorganic element with a high attraction for a desired chemical.

Disks of different magnetic strengths can also be employed, affecting their movement when reacting to the externally-applied magnetic field. They will move at different speeds and distances through the carrier medium, meaning the separation process can be done more quickly, since a wide range of biomaterials can be separated at the same time.

Dr. Hao believes that his method of continuous, parallel separations will greatly improve the speed and accuracy of determining the constitutive properties of biological and biomedical compositions. Moreover, it would be a valuable addition to many biosensing detection methods.