Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Ultrasensitive Biosensor from Molybdenite Semiconductor Outshines Graphene


UC Santa Barbara researchers demonstrate atomically thin, ultrasensitive and scalable molybdenum disulfide field-effect transistor based biosensors and establish their potential for single-molecule detection

Move over, graphene. An atomically thin, two-dimensional, ultrasensitive semiconductor material for biosensing developed by researchers at UC Santa Barbara promises to push the boundaries of biosensing technology in many fields, from health care to environmental protection to forensic industries.

Based on molybdenum disulfide or molybdenite (MoS2), the biosensor material — used commonly as a dry lubricant — surpasses graphene’s already high sensitivity, offers better scalability and lends itself to high-volume manufacturing. Results of the researchers’ study have been published in ACS Nano.

“This invention has established the foundation for a new generation of ultrasensitive and low-cost biosensors that can eventually allow single-molecule detection — the holy grail of diagnostics and bioengineering research,” said Samir Mitragotri, co-author and professor of chemical engineering and director of the Center for Bioengineering at UCSB. “Detection and diagnostics are a key area of bioengineering research at UCSB and this study represents an excellent example of UCSB’s multifaceted competencies in this exciting field.”

The key, according to UCSB professor of electrical and computer engineering Kaustav Banerjee, who led this research, is MoS2’s band gap, the characteristic of a material that determines its electrical conductivity.

Semiconductor materials have a small but nonzero band gap and can be switched between conductive and insulated states controllably. The larger the band gap, the better its ability to switch states and to insulate leakage current in an insulated state. MoS2’s wide band gap allows current to travel but also prevents leakage and results in more sensitive and accurate readings.

The limitations of graphene
While graphene has attracted wide interest as a biosensor due to its two-dimensional nature that allows excellent electrostatic control of the transistor channel by the gate, and high surface-to-volume ratio, the sensitivity of a graphene field-effect transistor (FET) biosensor is fundamentally restricted by the zero band gap of graphene that results in increased leakage current, leading to reduced sensitivity, explained Banerjee, who is also the director of the Nanoelectronics Research Lab at UCSB.

Graphene has been used, among other things, to design FETs — devices that regulate the flow of electrons through a channel via a vertical electric field directed into the channel by a terminal called a “gate.” In digital electronics, these transistors control the flow of electricity throughout an integrated circuit and allow for amplification and switching.

In the realm of biosensing, the physical gate is removed, and the current in the channel is modulated by the binding between embedded receptor molecules and the charged target biomolecules to which they are exposed. Graphene has received wide interest in the biosensing field and has been used to line the channel and act as a sensing element whose surface potential (or conductivity) can be modulated by the interaction (known as conjugation) between the receptor and target molecules that results in net accumulation of charges over the gate region.

However, said the research team, despite graphene’s excellent characteristics, its performance is limited by its zero band gap. Electrons travel freely across a graphene FET — hence, it cannot be “switched off” — which in this case results in current leakages and higher potential for inaccuracies.

Much research in the graphene community has been devoted to compensating for this deficiency, either by patterning graphene to make nanoribbons or by introducing defects in the graphene layer — or using bilayer graphene stacked in a certain pattern that allows band gap opening upon application of a vertical electric field — for better control and detection of current.

Enter MoS2, a material already making waves in the semiconductor world for the similarities it shares with graphene, including its atomically thin hexagonal structure, and planar nature, as well as what it can do that graphene can’t: act like a semiconductor.

“Monolayer or few-layer MoS2 have a key advantage over graphene for designing an FET biosensor: They have a relatively large and uniform band gap (1.2-1.8 eV, depending on the number of layers) that significantly reduces the leakage current and increases the abruptness of the turn-on behavior of the FETs, thereby increasing the sensitivity of the biosensor,” said Banerjee.

‘The best of everything’
Additionally, according to Deblina Sarkar, a PhD student in Banerjee’s lab and the lead author of the article, two-dimensional MoS2 is relatively simple to manufacture.

“While one-dimensional materials such as carbon nanotubes and nanowires also allow excellent electrostatics and at the same time possess band gap, they are not suitable for low-cost mass production due to their process complexities,” she said. “Moreover, the channel length of MoS2 FET biosensor can be scaled down to the dimensions similar to those of small biomolecules such as DNA or small proteins, still maintaining good electrostatics, which can lead to high sensitivity even for detection of single quanta of these biomolecular species,” she added.

“In fact, atomically thin MoS2 provides the best of everything: great electrostatics due to their ultra-thin body, scalability (due to large band gap), as well as patternability due to their planar nature that is essential for high-volume manufacturing,” said Banerjee. 

The MoS2 biosensors demonstrated by the UCSB team have already provided ultrasensitive and specific protein sensing with a sensitivity of 196 even at 100 femtomolar (a billionth of a millionth of a mole) concentrations. This protein concentration is similar to one drop of milk dissolved in a hundred tons of water. An MoS2-based pH sensor achieving sensitivity as high as 713 for a pH change by one unit along with efficient operation over a wide pH range (3-9) is also demonstrated in the same work.

“This transformative technology enables highly specific, low-power, high-throughput physiological sensing that can be multiplexed to detect a number of significant, disease-specific factors in real time,” commented Scott Hammond, executive director of UCSB’s Translational Medicine Research Laboratories.

Biosensors based on conventional FETs have been gaining momentum as a viable technology for the medical, forensic and security industries since they are cost-effective compared to optical detection procedures. Such biosensors allow for scalability and label-free detection of biomolecules — removing the step and expense of labeling target molecules with florescent dye. “In essence,” continued Hammond, “the promise of true evidence-based, personalized medicine is finally becoming reality.”

“This demonstration is quite remarkable,” said Andras Kis, professor at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland and a leading scientist in the field of 2D materials and devices. “At present, the scientific community worldwide is actively seeking practical applications of 2D semiconductor materials such as MoS2 nanosheets. Professor Banerjee and his team have identified a breakthrough application of these nanomaterials and provided new impetus for the development of low-power and low-cost ultrasensitive biosensors,” continued Kis, who is not connected to the project.

Wei Liu and Xuejun Xie from UCSB’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Aaron Anselmo from the Department of Chemical Engineering also conducted research for this study. Research on this project was supported by the National Science Foundation, the California NanoSystems Institute at UCSB and the Materials Research Laboratory at UCSB, a National Science Foundation MRSEC.

Concept art of a molybdenum disulfide field-effect transistor based biosensor demonstrated by UCSB researchers with ability to detect ultra-low (femtomolar) concentrations with high sensitivity that is 74-fold higher than that of graphene FET biosensors. Photo Credit: Peter Allen

Contact Info: 

Sonia Fernandez
(805) 893-4765

Sonia Fernandez | Eurek Alert!
Further information:

More articles from Materials Sciences:

nachricht How nanoscience will improve our health and lives in the coming years
27.10.2016 | University of California - Los Angeles

nachricht 3-D-printed structures shrink when heated
26.10.2016 | Massachusetts Institute of Technology

All articles from Materials Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

How nanoscience will improve our health and lives in the coming years

27.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

OU-led team discovers rare, newborn tri-star system using ALMA

27.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

'Neighbor maps' reveal the genome's 3-D shape

27.10.2016 | Life Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>