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Lab-on-a-chip takes Eureka prize

Sniffing out the sarin

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A chip-sized lab designed to detect chemicals in small traces was among the Eureka prize-winners announced last night (August 28).

The work, led by CSIRO materials scientist Dr Yonggang Zhu, puts all of the components of a test lab into a one-square-centimeter device: channels, mixers, diffusion chambers, electrodes, pumps and valves – along with the electronics needed to deliver the result.

The prize was specifically awarded for prototypes that Dr Zhu’s group developed, demonstrating a lab-on-a-chip able to detect agents like sarin, soman, tabun and VX, “as well as their degradation products”. The detector can work from swabs, water, or soil samples, and deliver a result in about 30 seconds.

Not surprisingly, Dr Zhu’s $AU10,000 prize was for “Outstanding Science in Support of Defence or National Security”, and was sponsored by Australia’s Defence Science & Technology Organization.

As well as providing quick field analysis of samples, the idea of a disposable chip-sized analysis means there’s less chance for samples to cross-contaminate.

"Professor Zhu has developed a reliable and sensitive detection device that can provide virtually immediate, on-the-spot results with the same accuracy as a fully staffed analytical laboratory. There are no other commercially available instruments able to do this. Current devices are difficult to use, unable to be deployed in the field, and have too high a rate of false alarms," says Frank Howarth, Director of the Australian Museum in a statement.

There’s a 2010 presentation from Dr Zhu at Docstock which describes the work in detail.

The full list of winners can be found here. ®

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