Terrorism prevention amongst host of applications for UK developed photonic sensor

Low cost photonic sensor technology developed at Oxford University could revolutionise progress in terrorism prevention, environmental monitoring, reusable electronics, medical diagnostics and food safety, it is claimed.

In a study featured in Advanced Materials engineers from the University explain how they have used material compounds known as Metal-Organic Frameworks (MOFs) to develop a ‘photo-chemically’ active nano-scale sensing technology. The material – known as “OX-1” for Oxford University-1 material – senses and responds to light and chemicals, visibly changing colour, depending on the substance that has been detected.

MOFs are highly tuneable and have been described as ‘solid molecular sponges’, with the ability to soak up and respond to a number of solvents and gasses. They are created from highly porous frameworks where metal atoms are bridged by organic linker molecules. The physical and chemical properties of these frameworks can be engineered to allow scientists to control the precise functionality of the material.

The technologies ability to recogsnise a vast range of reactive surfaces opens it up to a variety of applications, including hand-held medical devices for non-invasive diagnosis and therapy, and biosensors for safeguarding against chemical poisoning and food contamination.

Prof. Jin-Chong Tan, who leads the Multifunctional Materials & Composites (MMC) Lab in the Department of Engineering at Oxford University, said: “This new material has remarkable physical and chemical properties that will open the door to many unconventional applications. MOF materials are getting smarter, and with further research can be useful for engineering intelligent sensors and multifunctional devices.”

The team has patented the technology and is already collaborating with Samsung Electronics. It was also recently awarded a €2.4m European Research Council grant to further develop the technology. In the coming months the researchers will explore healthcare applications for the material, such as deployment of photochemical sensors inside diagnostic hand-held breathalysers.