The Department of Defense is providing a West Virginia University researcher with $749,000 to develop better sensors for detecting chemical, biological and other hazardous materials.

Jeremy Dawson will receive the grant from the departments Defense Intelligence Agency over the next three years for an interdisciplinary project that has important implications for national security.

Dawson is a research assistant professor in the Lane Department of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering in WVU s College of Engineering and Mineral Resources.

The grant will be part of WVNano, an organization that leads WVU s institution-wide effort to advance and promote interdisciplinary nanoscience and engineering research.

The overall goal of our research is to develop sensor devices that take advantage of the unique properties of photonic crystals to enable high-sensitivity detection of biological or chemical molecules,Dawson said.The small size of these devices will facilitate the development of highly sensitive, compact and portable sensor systems.

Other key WVU faculty members involved in the project include Xian-AnAndrewCao, assistant professor in the Lane Department, and Aaron Timperman, associate professor in the Department of Chemistry in the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences.

Hazardous chemical and biological materials are often identified by attaching a fluorescent chemical compound to the substances of interest to aid in detection.

Dawson and his colleagues are working on developing sensor devices based on photonic crystals, which enhance fluorescence, enabling the detection of extremely small quantities of hazardous materials.

Photonic crystals are created by the careful design and fabrication of nanoscale structural patterns in solid, gel or liquid materials. This pattern, which is essentially an engineered crystal lattice, gives the material unique optical properties.

While initially targeted toward detecting potentially hazardous materials for defense and homeland security, WVU researchers are also looking into other areas where the sensors may also prove useful, such as health sciences and energy.