Western Mail Profiles: Dr Vincent Teng

‘Dr Vincent Teng explains how nanotechnology can help save lives’

Dr Vincent Teng is a lecturer in the College of Engineering at Swansea University and his research interest is in the application of nanotechnology in electronics.

FIRST of all, let me explain the popular question usually asked by visitors to our laboratory: “What is nanotechnology?”

The word “nano” means billionth and one nanometre is a billionth of a metre. The width of our hair is typically 100,000 nanometres in diameter. There are around four to six atoms arranged side by side within a length of one nanometre.

When a material or structure is less than 100 nanometres in size, it exhibits many new properties and functionalities. For example, electrons in nanomaterial travel at much higher speed with minimal energy loss because they experience fewer collisions.

This is due to the small number of atoms, impurities and defects present in the nanomaterial.

And back to the question, what is nanotechnology? It is about the control and use of the unique properties of structures having a size of 100nanometres or smaller, which usually involves the development of novel materials or devices within that length scale.

My research is in the study of nanoscale electronic materials and devices that have major a impact in healthcare, computer, photonic and energy technologies.

This includes the development of ultra-sensitive nanobiosensors for the detection of diseases, ultra-fast nanotransistors for high performance computers, light-trapping nanoplasmonics for efficient thin-film solar cells and other novel electronic devices using nanoscale materials.

Much of my research work is interdisciplinary and requires active interaction with experts from other disciplines, such as medicine, biological science, chemistry, physics, health informatics, material and mechanical engineering, to develop innovative solutions.

One of my current projects, funded by the Welsh Government, is in the development of a highly-sensitive and selective biosensor for the continuous monitoring of blood glucose using metal-oxide nanowires. Due to the relatively large surface area of nanomaterials, the materials are very sensitive to any events happening at its surfaces. Therefore the use of nanowires provides excellent sensitivity and response towards small changes in the blood glucose level.

The project is in collaboration with Welsh companies to develop a non-invasive, continuous monitoring technology that allows diabetic patients to take control of their long-term illnesses.

With colleagues who are experts in wireless mobile communication involved, we are able to develop a technology that could provide emergency text alerts to relatives or neighbours of the patients when they experience unconsciousness due to hypoglycaemia attack.

The highly sensitive nanowires biosensor can be modified for use in the early detection of other diseases, such as cancer, stroke, coronary heart disease and infectious viruses. The ability to detect diseases way in advance of patients noticing or developing any symptoms would significantly improve treatment of the disease and hence survival rates.

In addition, I am interested in developing fabrication processes that are suitable for high-volume, low-cost production of nanoelectronic devices using printing technology through collaborating with colleagues from the Welsh Centre for Printing and Coating at Swansea University.

This has major implication in the commercialisation of these devices at an affordable price, hence bringing the benefits of the technology to the general citizen.

Dr Vincent Teng is the head of Nanoelectronics Research Group at the Multidisciplinary Nanotechnology Centre. You can contact him at k.s.teng@swansea.ac.uk

This article first  appeared in the Western Mail‘s Health Wales supplement on 29th October 2012, as part of the Welsh Crucible series of research profiles.