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Ancient Color-Shifting Goblet Inspires Nanoplasmonic Biosensor


An ancient Roman cup that changes color in different lighting is the inspiration for a new nanoplasmonic biosensor. The tiny sensor changes color when target molecules bind to it, thanks to the optical properties of the materials it’s made from.

Researchers arrayed a billion tiny cups, each a millionth the size of the Roman original, to create the device, which they say could offer a low-cost alternative to conventional biotechnologies used to study DNA, proteins, and other chemicals.

“We only need to shine a beam of a flashlight through our device, and on the other side we can use any camera — your digital camera, or a cellphone camera — to take a picture,” said bioengineer Logan Liu of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, coauthor of the paper describing the tiny array, published Jan. 31 in Advanced Optical Materials.

The array changes color when target molecules are detected, and could eventually be made for less than $10, says graduate student Manas Gartia, who optimized the array. As a result, experiments done in the lab or at home would be much less expensive than the half-million-dollar price paid by top labs for currently available devices with similar functions (though you can buy a gently used instrument on Ebay for $102,599).

The team based their design on an ancient goblet known as The Lycurgus Cup, crafted in the 4th century A.D. The cup, sculpted in relief, depicts the eponymous king held captive by the nymph Ambrosia, disguised as a vine. When lit from the front, the vessel appears green; but shine a light through it from the back, and it glows a deep red. (via Ancient Color-Shifting Goblet Inspires Nanoplasmonic Biosensor | Wired Science | Wired.com)


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