A $1.3 million dollar grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) is slated to fund the research of engineers at The Henry Samueli School of Engineering, UC Irvine who are working to develop nanotechnology devices that can significantly improve the lives of people with cystic fibrosis (CF) and other pulmonary diseases.
Their goal is a low-cost, disposable breath analysis device that a patient can use at home, along with a smartphone, to detect a lung infection. This way, CF patients and people with other respiratory issues can quickly and easily manage their lung conditions, seek treatment when necessarily, and prevent permanent airway damages that can shorten their lives.
Regina Ragan, a materials scientist, and Filippo Capolino, an electrical engineer, created a nano-optical sensor able to detect trace levels of infection through a small sample of breath. An accurate analogy for how the technology works is a police breathalyzer to measure a driver’s blood alcohol level. Their goal is to translate a laboratory-made sensor into a commercially available device.
Theses types of nanotechnologies depend on extremely small components, constructed of nanometer-scale building parts (a nanometer is 100,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair). These significantly reduced sizes pose proportionally difficult engineering challenges, since the methods that make it possible to build these nano objects with precision are both expensive and slow to manufacture.
“With support from the NSF and input from industry, our goal is to help nanoscale manufacturing processes leave the laboratory — where they’ve been confined — and become usable in widespread commercial applications,” said Ragan, principal investigator on the project and associate professor of chemical engineering & materials science.
Gregory Washington, dean of The Henry Samueli School of Engineering, emphasizes that this grant is proof of how strong and committed the school is to nano sciences and advanced manufacturing: “The Samueli School is poised to move forward as a force in this area,” Washington said in a press release.
Capolino, associate professor of electrical engineering & computer science; Ozdal Boyraz, associate professor of electrical engineering & computer science; and Marc Madou, Chancellor’s Professor of mechanical & aerospace engineering, are co-principal investigators on the project, which aims to use nanotechnology to aid CF patients so that they can closely monitor their conditions through the simplicity of their smartphones.