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Multiscale Modeling of Nanostructured Interfaces for Biological Sensors

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Liquid crystals hold promise for developing biosensors

Liquid crystals are a state of matter possessing properties between those of a liquid and those of a solid crystal. Their unusual properties have been known and exploited for over 50 years.


Liquid crystals (LCs) are now being investigated for use as a revolutionary form of biosensor. However, there are still a number of secrets left to reveal, including the ability to detect peptides, proteins and toxins. The sensors can detect individual molecules through a combined, multi-level approach. A detailed understanding of the extreme sensitivity of LCs to certain biological molecules can enable scientists to develop sensors tailored to specific proteins or viruses. One of the key features of LCs is their ability to amplify a signal at the molecular level. A single protein molecule at the exposed surface of a liquid crystal can cause it to reorganise around the protein. Although this event is triggered at the molecular level it spontaneously develops into macroscopic size of a few millimetres. The 'Multiscale modeling of nanostructured interfaces for biological sensors' (MNIBS) project studied how liquid crystals could be used as biological sensors. EU-funded project partners successfully integrated into a multiscale tool a range of modelling techniques that extended from the molecular to the macroscopic level. The behaviour of both LC and biological molecules was able to be studied in great detail and fully characterised and quantitatively described. The success of MNIBS at the micro, meso and macroscopic level enabled the practical simulation and design of LC-based, single-molecule sensors for proteins and toxins. The project also attracted companies eager to undertake the large-scale manufacturing of LC sensors using low-cost processes such as inkjet printing. These collaborations involve both small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and large multinationals in new areas of industrial expertise.

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