Conversations in Science
for K-12 Educators

A program conceived and organized by the Wisconsin Initiative for Science Literacy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, with the collaboration of the Madison Metropolitan School District and the Edgewood Sonderegger Science Center.

Thursday, October 2, 2003 at 4:00 p.m.

Molecular-scale bioelectronic interfaces:
How will microelectronics and molecular-scale biology converge?

Daniel W. Van der Weide
Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Inspired by the protein-mediated response of the cell to its environment, scientists and engineers are exploring ways of manipulating, assembling and applying biomolecules on integrated circuits, joining molecular biology with molecular-scale tools. The overall goal is to create interfaces between biological and computational systems for biosensing, drug discovery, and curing diseases, particularly of the neuromuscular system.

Engineers who design and fabricate integrated circuits can use this ability to fabricate electrically active structures that are commensurate in size with biomolecules. Having tools similar in size to biomolecules enables us to manipulate, measure, and, in the future, control them with computers, ultimately harnessing their unique functionality. A bioelectronic interface joins structured, functional surfaces and circuits to proteins and nucleic acids (e.g. DNA) at the single molecule level; “bioelectronic interfaces” also describes the interdisciplinary character of the this work. This cross-disciplinary approach challenges both the researcher and the student to learn and to think outside their zones of comfort and training.

We pursue these hybrid bioelectronic systems both to gain fundamental knowledge and to enhance industrial competitiveness through research, education, and transfer of technology. This new way of looking at engineering and biology could provide a new foundation for Wisconsin’s high-technology economy. Applications of these technologies include:

Military and civilian defense: Ultra-sensitive, broad-spectrum detection of biological warfare agents and chemical detection of anti-personnel landmines, screening passengers and baggage at airports, and providing early warning for toxins from virulent bacterial strains.

About the presenter:

Dan van der Weide received a bachelor’s degree in Electrical & Computer Engineering and a minor in Latin from The University of Iowa in 1987. He received a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from Stanford in 1993, and performed post-doctoral work for two years in solid-state physics at the Max Planck Institute in Stuttgart, Germany. He is currently Associate Professor of Electrical & Computer Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where his group works in micromachined high-frequency electromagnetic sensors; localized microwave spectroscopy on biomolecules and semiconductor devices using multifunctional scanning probes and antennas; and terahertz spectroscopy with integrated antennas and nonlinear transmission lines. Prof. van der Weide was an assistant and associate professor from 1995-99 at the University of Delaware. He is a 1997 recipient of the National Science Foundation’s Presidential Early Career (PECASE) award, a 1998 Office of Naval Research (ONR) Young Investigator Award, and is a Vilas Associate at the University of Wisconsin from 2002-04. He is the Principal Investigator on a newly awarded Air Force Office of Scientific Research Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI) program entitled, “Nanoprobe Tools for Molecular Spectroscopy and Control,” and has support from ONR and DARPA (together with Prof Robert Blick) to pursue these bioelectronic interfaces.

References and Suggested Readings

B. T. Rosner and D. W. van der Weide, "High-frequency near-field microscopy," Review of Scientific Instruments, vol. 73, pp. 2505-2525, 2002. (see )

M. K. Choi, K. Taylor, A. Bettermann, and D. W. van der Weide, "Broadband 10–300 GHz stimulus-response sensing for chemical and biological entities," Physics in Medicine and Biology, vol. 47, pp. 3777–3787, 2002. (see )

Gu, L., Braha, O., Conlan, S., Cheley, S., and Bayley, H. Stochastic sensing of organic analytes by a pore-forming protein containing a molecular adapter, Nature 398, 686-690 (1999) (see )

H. Bayley, "Building doors into cells," Scientific American, vol. 277, pp. 62-7, 1997. (see )

J. Ouellette, "Biosensors: Microelectronics marries biology," The Industrial Physicist, vol. 4, 1998, pp. 11-14. (see )

B. A. Cornell, V. L. Braach-Maksvytis, L. G. King, P. D. Osman, B. Raguse, L. Wieczorek, and R. J. Pace, "A biosensor that uses ion-channel switches," Nature, vol. 387, pp. 580-3, 1997.