NJIT Research Professor Reginald C. Farrow, PhD, who with his research team have discovered how to make nanoscale arrays of the world’s smallest probe for investigating the electrical properties of individual living cells was awarded yesterday, Oct. 4, 2012, the NJIT Board of Overseers Excellence in Research Prize and Medal. This prize is the most prestigious research award at NJIT. It is the fifth time the award has been made. Larger electrical probes have been extremely important in understanding these properties, as indicated by the Nobel Prizes awarded to the inventors of two previous generations of probes. Learn more about the research from a special video made for the occasion.“It took a lot of people at NJIT to make this research work,” Farrow said at the ceremony. “The learning experience for me and the students and others I worked with has been transformational. I loved that part. Students from high school age through their doctoral studies--all of us-- have had the experience of contributing to the success of this research.”
A congratulatory letter from Newark Mayor Cory Booker was incorporated into the program and shared at the event. “Your work in the lab, which will greatly expand knowledge of the electrical properties of individual human cells, has broad applicability ranging from the improvement of power sources such as fuel cells to medical advancements such as targeted drug delivery and less invasive physiological monitoring. Your work in the classroom, which is of equal note, is preparing the great minds of tomorrow who will, standing on your shoulders, continue our work and the work of others.”
Another upcoming honor is on tap for Farrow, who with NJIT Professor Gordon Thomas, will be the recipient on Nov. 9, 2012 of an Edison Patent Award from the Research & Development Council of New Jersey. The event at Liberty Science Center, which kicks off the Council’s 50th Anniversary celebration, will honor more than 30 inventors and 13 New Jersey companies and universities.
The award will honor a medical device invented by both professors and graduate student Sheng Liu: “No Clog Shunt Using a Compact Fluid Drag Path” (U.S. Patent 8,088,091). The device enables the implantable, wireless monitoring of both the extremely slow flow of the cerebrospinal fluid as well as tiny changes in the pressure in a ventriculo-pertoneal (VP) shunt that drains fluid out of the brain.
Farrow’s probe uses carbon nanotubes that are a hundred times smaller and offers the advantage of allowing small parts of a cell to be singled out for study with multiple probes. Furthermore, the larger probes restrict cell functions while the new nanoprobe does not. Besides increasing basic knowledge of cell physiology, this probe has practical applications such as determining the healthy dose of drugs, since the distribution of electrical charges in a healthy cell changes markedly when it becomes sick.
Carbon nanotubes are very strong, electrically conductive structures a single nanometer in diameter. That’s one-billionth of a meter, or approximately ten hydrogen atoms in a row. Farrow’s breakthrough is a controlled method for firmly bonding one of these submicroscopic, crystalline electrical wires to a specific location on a substrate. His method also introduces the option of simultaneously bonding an array of millions of nanotubes and efficiently manufacturing many devices at the same time.
Being able to position single carbon nanotubes that have specific properties opens the door to further significant advances. Other possibilities include an artificial pancreas, three-dimensional electronic circuits and nanoscale fuel cells with unparalleled energy density.
Farrow’s cutting edge work with nanotubes has already had a key role in advancing the development of a unique biofuel cell. NJIT Research Professor Zafar Iqbal, Department of Chemistry and Environmental Science, had created a potentially more efficient alternative to conventional batteries that employs a pair of enzymes to convert sugar into electrical energy. Iqbal’s design incorporated positive and negative plates, an anode and cathode, in a configuration similar to that found in all fuel cells. Farrow’s team used single carbon nanotubes with enzymes attached for the anode and cathode and placed them just two micrometers apart on a single plate. They also fabricated an array on a single plate with multiple nanoscale biofuel cells. Since each is so small, there is negligible internal resistance, which typically causes substantial energy loss. The power density is the highest ever achieved using the enzymes selected.
“Imagine electrical circuits that have billions of highly efficient micron-sized batteries powering individual components,” Farrow says. “We’ve created new engineering that can scale down the AA batteries in a television remote to the nanoscale. But it’s engineering we can use to create power sources on a larger scale as well, devices that are much lighter and contain less toxic material than the typical battery.” It’s engineering that could also lead to minimally invasive physiological monitoring, targeted drug delivery, brain and spinal stimulation, and other medical applications using nanoscale devices powered by the body’s own glucose and oxygen.
Farrow has published over 60 papers in peer-reviewed journals and proceedings, received 11 patent awards, four while at NJIT, and given 14 invited talks. The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the National Institutes of Health, and the U.S. Army’s Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center have all supported his research. Farrow was president and conference chair of the 2012 International Symposium on Electron, Ion, and Photon Beams and Nanofabrication.