Bacteria Detection in Floodwaters @LESA

Bacteria Detection in Floodwaters @LESA

LESA Professors Shayla Sawyer (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute) and Valencia Koomson (Tufts University) have been awarded an NSF EAGER award from the Division of Biological Infrastructure for $297,451 for their proposal titled, “Ultrasensitive frequency domain spectrometer for high throughput bacteria detection in floodwater”. This two year EAGER research project will advance fundamental research on sensing technology for rapid characterization of pathogenic bacteria in floodwater generated by future catastrophic events.

In the aftermath of major catastrophic hurricanes like Harvey and Irma, danger quietly continues in the form of microbial contamination in the remaining floodwaters.  NSF announced this special EAGER solicitation in early September in response to Hurricane Harvey to address a variety of technical challenges related to recovery from storm damage.  The awarded work leverages previous research at LESA to develop novel microbial contamination biosensors that are ultrasensitive, low power, compact, and robust.  This sensor technology will have broad applications in detecting microbial biohazards as part of a growing “Internet of Things” environmental security sensing platform.

The innovative aspects of the research program involve the merger of self-assembled nanocomposite structures, high sensitivity analog electronics, ultra-low-power multiplexing and digitization circuitry, and emerging microfabrication techniques to design a new class of compact fluorescence spectrometers, enabling high throughput spatial and temporal correlation of biofluorescence emission data for bacteria characterization unachievable with current systems.

The award’s cross-disciplinary research and education program will have significant broader impacts on fluorescence spectroscopy and optical sensor technology based on heterogeneous integration of nanocomposite optoelectronic sensors with state of the art silicon signal processing technology. This new sensor platform will lead to a new class of low power, miniature biosensors will enable detection of microbial contamination in water, air and on surfaces. Interactive workshops with biochemists, environmental engineers and students will be organized to guide spectrometer development.

About the Center for Lighting Enabled Systems & Applications (LESA)

LESA is a global leader in developing advanced lighting applications in healthcare, horticulture, wireless communications, building energy efficiency and cognitive systems. Funded primarily by the National Science Foundation (NSF) through the ERC program, LESA is an interdisciplinary, multi-university center developing “Smart Lighting Systems that See and Think™”.  The Center integrates academic, industrial, and government expertise in partnerships to produce transformational IoT enabled lighting systems that combine digitized LED lighting, new sensing networks and advanced controls to create powerful, new services that improve human health and wellbeing.  The center’s strong interdisciplinary training produces exceptionally well trained engineering graduates who are adept at innovation and primed for leadership in the global economy.   LESA is headquartered at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY, and partners with Boston University, The University of New Mexico, and Thomas Jefferson University, along with dozens of global industry members to achieve its objectives.

About Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, founded in 1824, is America’s first technological research university. The university offers bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in engineering; the sciences; information technology and web sciences; architecture; management; and the arts, humanities, and social sciences. Rensselaer faculty advance research in a wide range of fields, with an emphasis on biotechnology, nanotechnology, computational science and engineering, data science, and the media arts and technology. The Institute is has an established record of success in the transfer of technology from the laboratory to the marketplace, fulfilling its founding mission of applying science “to the common purposes of life.” For more information, please visit