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MEMS Biosensors and their potential for improving healthcare

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MicroElectroMechanical Systems (MEMS) is a technology that has been borne out of the semiconductor industry. Historically, it has used the fabrication techniques employed for making electronic devices to make these MEMS devices which incorporate mechanical elements, such as beams, plates and more complex structures. By using microelectronic fabrication, these mechanical elements can have an extremely small size (typically between 100 nm and 100 µm). These length scales mean that not only can we make sensors that could be implanted into living tissue with minimal invasion. In addition, the fact that the length scale is approaching a similar order to many biological cells coupled with the high surface area to volume ratio and high resonant frequency of such small structures means that it is possible to detect biological agents with very high sensitivity and without the need for amplification techniques (such as PCR ). The consequence is the prospect of being able to perform medical tests ‘in the field’ and in real time without the need for sending samples of blood, urine or other tissue back to a lab for measurement.

In this lecture, the diversity of MEMS sensing technologies will be presented to demonstrate the range of healthcare applications that are starting to emerge. In addition, we will look at an acoustic-based technology that has been developed in Cambridge as a specific example of how devices can be engineered to meet the demands of healthcare sensing. We will also consider the impact that this technology could have in the future, from reducing the costs of healthcare to the National Health Service by enabling more preventative medicine and tertiary care, through to the benefits that testing in remote locations could have on healthcare in countries where there is currently poor provision of access to medical specialists.

This talk is part of the Cambridge Philosophical Society series.

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