IGERT Research Areas
Research in the FlexEBio Program will be carried out along three broadly defined themes that will challenge and enhance our understanding of the biology-flexible electronics interface. Each of these themes (Bioelectronic and Bio-optical Sensors; Materials-Biology Interface; Flexible Neural Electronics) has been selected for its technical importance to the developing field of flexible electronics for life science applications, its demand for interdisciplinary research in fundamental physical and biological science, and its need for innovative, critical thinking and teamwork. Faculty and students from every partner school (Cornell, Binghamton, Wadsworth/UA) will be involved in each theme. Each theme will provide rich opportunities for meaningful industrial and international internships; each is exciting, has the potential for enormous societal impact, and will attract the participation of outstanding and diverse IGERT Fellows. These themes are highly complementary so that new insights generated in one activity will provide valuable information for another. Themes are designed to function in parallel and are not sequential. Through research collaborations, we will work with Howard University, Clark-Atlanta University and Lincoln University to engage talented underrepresented minority students in these research activities.

Bioelectronic and Bio-optical Sensors: Sensing of biological compounds is a significant challenge of technology development in numerous fields. These range from the detection of hazardous substances in the environment or various technological processes in industry, to the detection of compounds of biological warfare or bio-terrorism and applications in biomedical devices. Bioelectronic and bio-optical devices using flexible electronics have the potential to provide low cost solutions for many of these applications. A key element in a successful sensing device is the mechanism of detection. A common theme will be the design, construction and testing of a device on a flexible substrate that involves several integrated bioelectrochemical-sensing mechanisms. Projects will be designed to cut across traditional disciplinary boundaries to include both biological and physical attributes. Traditionally, such devices may perform a transfer of charges between electrodes and the detected compounds or intermediates involved in the detection mechanisms. Such sensor mechanisms may be based on direct amperometric or voltammetric detection of the analyte, amplifying transducers such as ligand-gated ion channels, or by employing electrochemical transistors or optical elements in the detection mechanism.

The Material-Biology Interface: The successful implementation of flexible electronics for biological applications will require improved fundamental understanding and control of the interfaces between synthetic materials and biological structures. The rapid development of novel synthetic structures for flexible electronics and the ability to rapidly shape and form these materials at very small length scales offers unique opportunities for tailoring specificity and eliminating nonspecific interactions. This effort targets the design and study of use-specific surfaces and interfaces by employing general strategies suitable for various material and device classes as well as for the development of new biological research tools. Biocompatible surfaces will be fine tuned for particular applications. A common focus will be the patterning and self-assembly of modified surface arrays to orient proteins or biological membranes or to assemble cell surface components tailored with specific receptors for effective sensor design. Projects will be aligned with precise needs arising from the other two themes, and thus will be collaborative ventures. Access to world class facilities by the IGERT Fellows will be vital to this effort and will include the use of the facilities of the Nanobiotechnology Center (NBTC), the facilities of the Wadsworth Center/UA and the use of the CAMM to provide specialized test samples.

Flexible Neural Electronics: Electronic and computer technologies and our understanding of brain function have advanced along parallel, but mostly disconnected paths. Devices that utilize the latest advances in these technologies could harness the ultra-massive parallel processing, and decision-making capability of the brain and in turn could revolutionize our lives. Such devices could help treat neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease but just as important, direct brain control of machines and communication networks could free us from repetitive and/or dangerous tasks, and allow us to project this capability over large distances in a short time frame. Flexible biocompatible devices, with active-electronics at the site of signal detection (electrical and neurochemical), will enable this revolution by improving the integration of the electronics with the biological system, dramatically expanding our understanding of brain signals. Freedom from large heavy cumbersome equipment could be achieved by integrating electronics for data analysis, onboard and external networking, and telemetry. These critical steps can only be achieved by a new generation of multidisciplinary individuals cross-trained in engineering and neuroscience who have the skills to design a new generation of devices with improved electrical and mechanical properties. Our IGERT Fellows will become these needed professionals, and the biocompatible flexible electronic/biochemical devices they develop will drive this scientific and technological leap. Interaction with the IGERT Fellows involved in Bioelectronic and Bio-optical Sensors research will provide state-of-the-art electrical and neurochemical sensors, and interaction with the Material-Biology Interface group will provide the much needed biocompatible materials with which all three groups will collaborate to design and fabricate the devices.