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UAlbany professor leads project for new climate sensor

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By Rose Schneider

Contributing Writer

[email protected]

   A University at Albany professor is leading a project to convert a sensor originally designed for glucose measurement to a new kind of climate change detector.

   Professor Andrei Lapenas is the principal investigator of the development of the nanaphid, a nanobiosensor that uses chemical and thermal reactions to monitor carbohydrates in plants.

   The device stemmed from a sensor designed by State University of New York at Polytechnic Institute professor James Castracane to measure glucose levels in human organ transplants, according to Lapenas.

   The sensor utilizes a technique similar to aphids – insects whose saliva contains a compound that inhibits wound healing in plants, according to Lapenas. The sensor contains a pocket saturated with a similar substance in order to maintain living plant sap flow, and thus it was named “nanaphid,” a combination of its insect counterpart and the sensor’s ability to watch over the plant like a “nana.”

   Lapenas, a climatologist who studies the global carbon cycle and its relation to tree growth, hopes this new means of real-time data collection will help to prove theses on trees’ reactions to climate change.

   “It seems like boreal forests now absorb less carbon than we expected, meaning that more carbon will stay in the atmosphere, and meaning that global warming will be stronger than we expected,” says the professor, “That’s why we need this device, to verify this hypothesis.”

   The project has received an $837,000 form the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Instrument Development for Biological Research  (IDBR). According to the project’s NSF proposal, the sensor may also provide educational opportunities to students via participation in its technology development and its research.

   The patent pending spin-off technology of this work also has potential for commercial investment in agriculture, the food industry, and other fields, says Lapenas.

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