Updated: Tuesday, 7th April 2020 @ 8:10am

Drug cheats beware! Miracle graphene could have 'profound implications' on detection, claim Manchester experts

Drug cheats beware! Miracle graphene could have 'profound implications' on detection, claim Manchester experts

By Dominic Claeys-Jackson

Miracle material graphene could help revolutionise the detection of drug cheats and terrorists, University of Manchester scientists claim.

Researchers have created a device which potentially sees a single molecule through an optical system, analysing its components within minutes.

This uses plasmonics – the study of electron vibration in different materials – and means drug-abusing athletes and would-be terrorists could be thwarted more quickly and accurately than ever before.

Study leader Dr Sasha Grigorenko said: “We are only starting to scratch the surface of what this research might tell us but it could have profound implications for drug detection, security and viruses.”

The researchers, writing in Nature Materials alongside Aix-Marseille University colleagues, suggested a new type of sensing devices: artificial materials with topological darkness.

It was found that these devices showed sensitivity three orders of magnitude better than existing models when attached to just one relatively small molecule.

This high sensitivity was reliant on topological properties of light phase.

To test their devices, researchers covered them with graphene before introducing hydrogen, which allowed calibration with far superior sensitivity to other materials.

As trace amounts of a substance are detected extremely quickly, professional athletes could be subject to more accurate and rapid drug testing.

Airports and other high-security locations could foil drug traffickers and terrorists concealing explosives, while it could also detect the presence of human viruses.

Testing for toxins or drugs could be done via a simple blood test, with highly-accurate results available in minutes.

“The whole idea of this device is to see single molecules, and really see them, under a simple optical system, say a microscope,” added Dr Grigorenko.

“The singular optics which utilise the unusual phase properties of light is a big and emerging field of research, and we have shown how it can have practical applications which could be of great benefit.

“Graphene was one of the best materials we could have used to measure the sensitivity of these molecules.

“It is so easy to put the hydrogen on to it in controlled way.”

The developments of graphene were unveiled alongside the university’s advancements in 3D X-ray technology, which could also help to radically change airport security and be used to detect cancerous tissues.

Professors Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov first isolated graphene at the University of Manchester in 2004, winning them the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2010.

It is the world’s thinnest, strongest and most conductive material – stronger than diamond but as stretchable as rubber.

The wonder material could potentially revolutionise applications ranging from smartphones and ultrafast broadband to drug delivery and computer chips.

However, while it could replace existing materials such as silicon, researchers have always believed its future lies in devices and materials yet to be invented.

Picture courtesy of mcsmit, with thanks

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