Chemicals could get up an optical nose

A fibre-optic based technology can be trained to ‘sniff’ or detect chemical compounds.

Illumina has signed an agreement with Chevron Research and Technology to determine how its BeadArray technology could be developed and applied to hydrocarbon processing operations.

Over the next year, the companies will evaluate how Illumina’s fibre-optic based technology, now being developed for high-throughput genetic analysis applications, can be designed and trained to ‘sniff’ or detect chemical compounds present in refining or chemical plant operations.

If the companies are successful, the next generation of sensor technology could improve the efficiency of monitoring refining and petrochemical processes and allow companies to better manage costs for their entire value chain.

Illumina’s BeadArray technology combines fibre optic bundles and specially prepared beads that self-assemble into an array. Each fibre optic bundle contains thousands to millions of individual fibres depending on the diameter of the bundle.

In a separate process, sensors are created by affixing a specific type of molecule to each of the billions of microscopic beads in a given batch. The particular molecules on a bead define that bead’s function as a sensor. Batches of beads coated with specific molecules are then combined to form a pool specific to a particular type of array.

To form an array, each fibre optic bundle is dipped into a pool of coated beads. The coated beads are drawn into the wells, one bead per well, on the end of each fibre in the bundle. The tens of thousands of beads at the end of the fibre optic bundle comprise the BeadArray.

Experiments can then be performed by dipping the BeadArray into a prepared sample. The molecules in the sample bind to their matching molecules on the coated bead. Since each bead performs its own assay, tens of thousands of quantitative measurements can be made simultaneously on each sample.

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