Micro- and nanogap based biosensors

  • Jules Hammond

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


Biosensors are used for the detection of a range of analytes for applications in healthcare, food production, environmental monitoring and biodefence. However, many biosensing platforms are large, expensive, require skilled operators or necessitate the analyte to be labelled. Direct electrochemical detection methods present a particularly attractive platform due to the simplified instrumentation when compared to other techniques such as fluorescence-based biosensors. With modern integrated circuit capabilities electrochemical biosensors offer greater suitability for monolithic integration with any necessary signal processing circuitry.This thesis explores micro- and nanogap devices for both redox cycling and dielectric spectroscopy sensing mechanisms. By using two electrodes with interelectrode separation down to distances in the micro- and nanometre scale, several benefits can be realised. Firstly the close proximity of the two electrodes significantly reduces the interdiffusion time. This allows an electroactive species to be rapidly shuttled across the gap and switched between reduced and oxidised states. The result is feedback amplification of the amperometric response, increasing the signal. The second benefit is that the screening effect caused by electric double layers at the electrode–electrolyte interface is reduced due to the electric double layers occupying a larger fraction of the sensing volume. This significantly improves the sensor suitability for dielectric spectroscopy by increasing the potential drop across the biolayer.These two sensing mechanisms are demonstrated using a large area dual-plate microgap device for the detection of two different analytes. Utilising the first mode, detection of cysteine–cystine, an important redox couple involved in the signalling mechanism for the regulation of protein function, interaction and localisation is shown. The microgap device is then used for dielectric spectroscopy sensing of a mannose-specific uropathogenic Escherichia coli strain whilst also demonstrating the effect of ionic concentration on the capacitive response.The response of these devices is highly dependent on the interelectrode separation as well as the surface area of the electrodes. However, fabrication of large-area nanogap devices presents a significant challenge. This meant that careful optimisation and the development of novel techniques was necessary. This work reports the design, fabrication and characterisation of both a vertical and a horizontal coplanar large area nanogap device. The vertical nanogap device is fabricated using an inductively-coupled plasma reactive ion etching process to create a channel in a silicon substrate. A lower electrode is then optically patterned in the channel before anodically bonding a second identical electrode patterned on glass directly above. The horizontal nanogap device uses a different approach, utilising a state-of-the-art electron-beam lithography system to create a long serpentine nanogap with passivation to reduce fringing effects. The design allows the electron-beam lithography step to be substituted with nanoimprint lithography to reduce cost and improve throughput. Both of these devices have integrated microfluidic channels and provide a capacity for relatively high-throughput production.
Date of Award24 May 2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorPedro Estrela (Supervisor) & Frank Marken (Supervisor)


  • biosensor
  • sensor
  • large-area
  • microgap
  • nanogap
  • electrochemical
  • redox cycling
  • generator-collector
  • dielectric spectroscopy
  • capacitance
  • electric double layer

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