Story content courtesy of EPFL, Switzerland.
If we wanted to count the number of people in a crowd, we could make on the fly estimates, very likely to be imprecise, or we could ask each person to pass through a turnstile. The latter resembles the model that EPFL researchers have used for creating a “DNA reader” that is able to detect the passage of individual DNA molecules through a tiny hole: a nanopore with integrated graphene transistor.
The DNA molecules are diluted in a solution containing ions and are driven by an electric field through a membrane with a nanopore. When the molecule goes through the orifice, it provokes a slight perturbation to the field, detectable not only by the modulations in ionic current but also by concomitant modulation in the graphene transistor current. Based on this information, it is possible to determine whether a DNA molecule has passed through the membrane or not.
“We thought that we would be able to solve these problems by creating a membrane as thin as possible while maintaining the orifice’s strength”, said Aleksandra Radenovic from the Laboratory of Nanoscale Biology at EPFL. Together with Floriano Traversi, postdoctoral student, and colleagues from the Laboratory of Nanoscale Electronics and Structures, she came across the material that turned out to be both the strongest and most resilient: graphene, which consists of a single layer of carbon molecules. The strips of graphene or nanoribbons used in the experiment were produced at EPFL.