Engineering Across Boundaries
As countries worldwide become increasingly interconnected, engineering is going global.
— Mark Griep
For PhD student Mark Griep, the multidisciplinary nature of his doctoral research is indicative of engineering’s future. “Like most cutting-edge research, nanotechnology research occurs at the intersection of many engineering disciplines. In addition to mechanical engineering, I’ve had opportunities to work with chemical, electrical, and biomedical engineering techniques.”
Griep, a recipient of the prestigious National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship, is part of a team that is researching and fabricating a protein-based nanosensor that will be used to detect minute concentrations of airborne toxic agents. The project, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Defense, was conceived as an alternative to the bulky detection systems currently used by U.S. military forces.
“The end goal is to create a sensor that will occupy an area roughly the size of a computer chip, allowing it to be integrated into soldiers’ clothing or placed in a pen-sized device that can be launched into potentially hazardous areas to determine toxin concentrations,” says Griep.
The sensor is a bio-electrical device that utilizes the unique properties of the optical protein bacteriorhodopsin and functionalized semiconductor quantum dots to convert optical energy into an electric signal. “We’re creating a functional prototype to detect a specific substance,” says Griep, “but the technology is designed for easy modification to detect a full range of toxins with a single lightweight, manageable piece of equipment.” In addition to applications in smart munitions and enhanced soldier security, the sensor will have civilian functions in airports, hospitals, and other public spaces.
Griep will spend a semester working on the sensor construction at the US Army Research Laboratory in Aberdeen and also at the Edgewood Chemical and Biological Center near Baltimore. After his projected PhD completion in 2008, Griep plans to continue his research with a post-doctoral position in Asia.
“Global, social, and technical competencies are paramount to success in a rapidly changing engineering environment,” he says. “As countries worldwide become increasingly interconnected, engineering is going global.”