Integrating nanostructured artificial receptors with whispering gallery mode optical microresonators via inorganic molecular imprinting techniques
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The creation of label-free biosensors capable of accurately detecting trace contaminants, particularly small organic molecules, is of significant interest for applications in environmental monitoring. This is achieved by pairing a high-sensitivity signal transducer with a biorecognition element that imparts selectivity towards the compound of interest. However, many environmental pollutants do not have corresponding biorecognition elements. Fortunately, biomimetic chemistries, such as molecular imprinting, allow for the design of artificial receptors with very high selectivity for the target. Here, we perform a proof-of-concept study to show how artificial receptors may be created from inorganic silanes using the molecular imprinting technique and paired with high-sensitivity transducers without loss of device performance. Silica microsphere Whispering Gallery Mode optical microresonators are coated with a silica thin film templated by a small fluorescent dye, fluorescein isothiocyanate, which serves as our model target. Oxygen plasma degradation and solvent extraction of the template are compared. Extracted optical devices are interacted with the template molecule to confirm successful sorption of the template. Surface characterization is accomplished via fluorescence and optical microscopy, ellipsometry, optical profilometry, and contact angle measurements. The quality factors of the devices are measured to evaluate the impact of the coating on device sensitivity. The resulting devices show uniform surface coating with no microstructural damage with Q-factors above 106. This is the first report demonstrating the integration of these devices with molecular imprinting techniques, and could lead to new routes to biosensor creation for environmental monitoring.