The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), in Laurel, Md., has signed an agreement with Link Plus Corporation, of Columbia, Md., granting worldwide, exclusive rights to its Molecularly Imprinted Polymer (MIP) explosives detection technology.
The key technology is a molecularly imprinted polymer sensor that uses specific chemical reactions to detect explosive compounds with more sensitivity and selectivity than today's leading detectors. Under the licensing agreement, Link Plus can make, use, market and sell products incorporating the APL-developed technology.
"This partnership will be an exciting opportunity to begin showcasing the wide range of applications and advantages of customized macro-molecules," says APL chemist George Murray, a leader in the molecular imprinting field for more than 20 years.
Molecular imprinting is a technique for preparing synthetic polymers with recognition sites specific to a target molecule. Similar to how a key must be complementary to a lock in order to work, the shapes, sizes and functionalities of these artificially generated recognition sites are complementary to the target molecule, and are capable of rebinding target molecules in preference to other closely related structures. Similar complexes are made by our immune systems; however, MIPs are more robust, stable and resistant to a wide range of pH, humidity and temperature than their biological counterparts. Additionally, the newest versions of these materials are less expensive and safer to produce, and can be sprayed, printed or spin coated onto commercial devices.
Work with these synthetic compounds began in the 1950s and focused on silica gels. In the early 1990s, Murray began exploring methods to incorporate MIPs into sensors to meet the different requests and requirements of different APL sponsors. Essentially, mechanisms to signal that the "key" had been successfully placed into the "lock" were needed. Through the precise addition of different components around the recognition sites, fluorimetric, colorimetric and electric signals were generated to indicate an interaction between the MIP and the compound of interest. Sensors to detect narcotics, iron, copper, explosives, uranium, chloride, phosphates and proteins were among the many sensors Murray explored.
Homeland Security and International Applications
APL and Link Plus will integrate the APL-developed MIPs technology with the Link Plus Advanced Wireless Communications System (AWICS®) and Utilimesh™ software, and explore government and commercial market opportunities for this technology. Potential products could include handheld explosives detection devices and fixed explosives sensors that can wirelessly transmit information regarding the presence of an explosive to responsible agencies. Link Plus is currently developing products that will incorporate the MIPs sensors for various homeland security and international applications, including shipping pallets and containers, airplanes, trains, buses and subway stations. The combination of this powerful sensor technology, along with the wireless mesh network capability of Utilimesh™, gives Link Plus a unique product for the broader security market, as well as other industrial monitoring and commercial applications.
"The APL-developed technology is a tremendous supplement to our current products," says Bob Jones, the chairman and CEO of Link Plus. "This initial project has the potential to provide an excellent solution to a very serious need, but we also recognize the essential foundation being built towards future collaborative efforts with APL."