Composite image showing a neurone cell on a SGFET made from graphene. The plotted data show one firing of a neurone. (Courtesy: Jose Garrido)

Graphene transistors give bioelectronics a boost

Feb 20, 2013

Graphene-based transistors that respond to changes in chemical solutions could be used to link electronic devices directly to the human nervous system. That is the claim of researchers in Germany who have built arrays of devices that respond to changes in the electrolytes surrounding living cells. The team hopes that its research could result in retinal implants that could help some visually impaired people see images.

The research centres on the small voltage that a neurone creates across its cell membrane when it fires, with the potential difference arising from sodium ions moving into the cell and potassium ions moving out into the surrounding solution. Since the 1970s, biophysicists have been trying to detect this sudden change in the electrolytic properties of the liquid surrounding a cell using a type of field-effect transistor (FET). These devices are called solution-gated FETs (SGFETs) and much of the initial research was done using silicon. But after graphene was isolated in 2004, some researchers realized that this material – a layer of carbon just one atom thick – could be used to create better SGFETs.

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