When boron nitride outshines gold and silver

Ultra-thin boron nitride outshines gold and silver when used to detect contaminants in smart sensing technology. 

It is 100 times more effective at detecting dangerous materials in our food and environment than noble metals.

Traditionally, detection surfaces of these devices have been made using gold and silver. But covering these metals with a microscopically thin layer of boron nitride greatly enhances their performance.

The findings are by a team from Deakin University’s Institute for Frontier Materials, Japan’s National Institute for Materials Science and China’s Wenzhou University.

Researchers around the world have been racing to develop the most super-sensitive detectors for settings such as border control, forensics, defence industries, food safety and medical research.

Deakin’s Professor Ying Chen, Dr Luhua Li, Dr Qiran Cai and their colleagues found the ceramic boron nitride was superior to noble metals in current detection technology that harnesses light scattering off surfaces to identify even minute traces of toxins, pollutants, proteins and DNA.

The new detection system is cheaper and simpler to produce than previous models, is highly adsorbant (clings well to molecules), resists corrosion and is unaffected by high temperatures. This enables quick ‘intense heat’ cleaning and reuse.

Vying with carbon for its versatility, boron nitride has potential to be used in a wide range of industries. For example, Deakin scientists with USA-collaborators are trialling boron nitride in sponge-form to mop up oil spills.

“Devices using boron nitride nanosheets could be used to detect narcotics in saliva in drug tests and even cancer cells in blood and breath samples,” Luhua says.

Banner image: Deakin’s Professor Ying Chen (left) and Dr Luhua Li fine-tuning ultra sensitive sensing techniques.

For more information:
Institute for Frontier Materials, Deakin University
Robin Taylor
+61 3 5247 9255