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Nanoparticle Colors
January 16, 2003
At Northwestern University, chemist Chad Mirkin has developed a technique that could be a very important part of our arsenal of defense against bioterror or biowarfare. This technique for detecting infectious diseases in a patient’s blood, urine or saliva can be done in under an hour — much faster than most of today’s tests that take 3-4 days. Mirkin attaches tiny particles of gold (Ag) or silver (Au) to genetic material that is specific for a particular disease. These tiny molecules are so small that they are measured in nanometers (nm) — one billionth of a meter — and so are called nanoparticles.

The nanoparticles latch onto infectious agents’ genetic material and then send out color codes. By varying the size or shape of his particles, Mirkin can avail himself of a huge palette of colors, some of which are shown in this image. By analyzing the color of the sample, he can detect any number of infectious agents in a single test.

For more information, see Infector Detector.

image: Chad Mirkin, Northwestern University

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