Nanosensor to Detect Extraterrestrial Life

The EPFL scientists successfully tested their novel system with isolated bacteria, yeast, mouse and human cells.Credit:

The EPFL scientists successfully tested their novel system with isolated bacteria, yeast, mouse and human cells.
Credit: École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne

Could nanotechnology be the key to discovering extraterrestrial life? The scientists at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) believe so.

A team at EPFL made up of Giovanni Dietler, Sandor Kasa and Giovanni Longo has developed an extremely sensitive nanosensor that can detect organisms as small as bacteria, yeast, and even cancer cells.

The scientits believe that this is a novel innovation that can be applied to the search for extraterrestrial life. Prior to this development, finding life on other plants has been dependent on chemical detection. The researchers have veered away from this idea and have decided to depend on detecting motion, seeing as it is a trait of life.

The nanosensor uses a nano-sized cantilever to detect motion. A cantilever – or simply a beam that is anchored only at one end, with the other end bearing a load – is typically used in the design of bridges and buildings, but this application takes the very same idea and implements it on a micrometer scale.

The idea comes from the already existing atomic force microscope, which uses a cantilever to produce pictures of atoms on a surface.

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The motion sensor that Dietler and Kasas developed works the same way, but here the sample is attached on the cantilever itself. For example, a bacterium attaches to the cantilever. If the bacterium is alive, it will inevitably move in some way, e.g. move its flagellum or simply carry out normal biological functions. The motion also moves the much smaller and sensitive cantilever and it is captured by the readout laser as series of vibrations. The single is taken as a sign of life.

Read the full story here.

One benefit of this system is hat it is completely chemistry free, which means it can be used anywhere – from drug testing to the search for extraterrestrial life.

Interested in what nanosensors will do in the future? Then you won’t want to miss our nanosensor symposium at the ECS 227th Meeting in Chicago!


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