What I'm up to in bioelectronics


Biology, the kind that happens inside cells and inside intracellular structures, is fundamentally chemistry – albeit a chemistry with some weird and specific molecules, and with some limitations on things like copy number, solvent and temperature. Detecting and manipulating them is both scientifically interesting (I’m writing this hours after the 2013 Nobel Prize was announced) and full of rich impact in solving today’s problems: looking at the minute signatures of diseases and genetic biomarkers saves lives.

One box of tricks that we can use to do so is electrochemical signatures of these reactions. While electrochemistry is itself a pretty mature field (to the point I thought it pretty staid when we touched on it in general chemistry ten years ago!), new tools and new targets change everything. Interrogating biomolecules though their redox properties or actual charge (for acids in solution) is useful in cases where optical or purely chemical techniques don’t work.

Our group has a unique edge in all this: the dominant technical toolkit we know inside and out is IC design. Whereas other approaches to electrophysiology – and the community of ancillary fields it’s spawned in the last decades – use some pretty conservative (even discrete!) electronics, Ken’s group is world-class at electronics design, and leverages that to ask questions in biology. I’ll be looking more at the transducer ends of things, in line with my previous work, but delving into these well-understood techniques and considering their capabilities in this arena is immensely exciting.

So that’s what the next year or so looks like – it’s pretty thrilling to dive in, learn a bunch of new things, and revisit some familiar problems with fresh eyes and a new set of tools!

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