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Wayne State receives NSF I-Corp grant to improve nanowire sensors used for food safety, anti-terrorism and more

January 13, 2017


DETROIT – Guangzhao Mao, Ph.D., chair and professor of chemical engineering in the College of Engineering at Wayne State University, was recently awarded a $50,000 Innovation Corps (I-Corps) grant from the National Science Foundation. The Wayne State I-Corps team includes graduate student Mohamed Kilani as the entrepreneurial lead and Edward Kim, an advisor from Wayne State’s Technology Commercialization Office, as the mentor. The I-Corps program at NSF aims to develop and nurture a national innovation ecosystem, helping scientific discoveries develop into new technologies, products, processes and services that benefit society.

Mao’s I-Corps project, “Electrochemical Deposition of Organic Nanowire Sensors,” aims to improve gas sensing for chemical and environmental monitoring, food safety and antiterrorism capabilities.

According to Mao, the global gas sensor market is estimated to be about $20 billion, while the subset of the nanosensor segment was only $13.1 million in 2014. The small market size is partially attributed to the lack of feasible manufacturing techniques that allow the utilization of novel nanomaterials for sensor applications. The complexity and cost have prevented rapid growth of the domestic nanosensor market despite tremendous progress in nanomaterials research and development.

“This technology may reduce the cost and complexity of the manufacturing of nanowire sensors and could potentially propel significant growth of the nanosensor market,” said Mao.

The project will pursue a gas sensor manufacturing technology, which is compatible with current microelectronics.

“We will rely on a solution crystallization process that places nanowires directly and precisely on chips,” said Mao. “The technology stems from a discovery of organic crystalline compounds that were mixed with nanoparticles, and nanowires nucleated on nanoparticles upon solvent evaporation.”

The nanowire sensor has been tested against a number of gases to obtain sensor performance data. In current competing technologies, nanowires need to be aligned and placed at precise locations and orientations on the patterned substrates, a complex process to scale up. The method being developed by Mao and her research team will synthesize organic nanowires directly on the metal substrates by using the substrate pattern as nucleation points for the nanowire growth and orientation.

The award number for this National Science Foundation I-Corp grant is 1657327.

About Wayne State University

Wayne State University is one of the nation’s pre-eminent public research universities in an urban setting. Through its multidisciplinary approach to research and education, and its ongoing collaboration with government, industry and other institutions, the university seeks to enhance economic growth and improve the quality of life in the city of Detroit, state of Michigan and throughout the world. For more information about research at Wayne State University, visit research.wayne.edu.