IMS 2015 hints at the century of biology with keynote and technical session

May 25, 2015

“The vision is that at some point biology can be transformed into a pure engineering discipline,” said Dr. Darlene Solomon, chief technology officer and senior vice president of Agilent Technologies, at the closing keynote speech of the International Microwave Symposium 2015 Thursday evening May 21 in Phoenix.* Her contention was that while the 20th century was the century of physics, the 21st century is the century of biology, adding, “the century of biology is good for engineering.”

Addressing IMS back in 2009 while Agilent included its life sciences business as well as the electronics measurement business that is now Keysight Technologies, Dr. Solomon quoted Maxwell to the effect that “to measure is to know.” In a phone interview shortly before IMS this year, she said that adage continues to apply to Agilent’s current life sciences business. Over the last 20 years, she said, biology has transitioned from a qualitative descriptive science to an increasingly quantitative one in which the measurement side is becoming far more central. Cells, she said, communicate electrically, and there are electrical ways to probe the cell.

At least one technical session at IMS 2015 supported this view. The session “Cellular-Level Microwave Measurements” reviewed advances in cellular characterization via interaction with RF/microwave fields. Researchers from Lehigh University presented a paper titled “Improved Broadband Electrical Detection of Individual Biological Cells,” which described a homemade probe station on top of an inverted microscope for simultaneous microwave measurement and visual validation of live Jurkat cells.

Researchers from LAAS-CNRS and Toulouse University described “Microwave Dielectric Spectroscopy of a Single Biological Cell with Improved Sensitivity up to 40 GHz.” They described the sensitivity optimization of a microwave biosensor dedicated to the analysis of a single living biological cell from 40 MHz to 40 GHz.

“A Microwave Reconfigurable Dielectric-based Glucose Sensor with 20 mg/dl Sensitivity at Sub-nL Sensing Volume in CMOS” was the topic of presenters from the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of California, San Francisco. They described a glucose sensor implemented in 65-nm CMOS, which incorporates four independent sensing channels operating from 6 to 30 GHz to facilitate the broadband characterization of the glucose medium.

In addition, researchers at the University of Manitoba presented a paper titled “Multi-Frequency DEP Cytometer Employing a Microwave Interferometer for the Dielectric Analysis of Micro-particles.” And in a final paper, researchers from XLIM Research Institute, University of Limoges-CNRS, LABEX Sigma-LIM, and IMS University of Bordeaux-CNRS described a “Delivery System Setup and Characterization for Biological Cells Exposed to Nanosecond Pulsed Electric Field.”

If you would like to address similar topics at IMS 2016, scheduled for May 22-17 in San Francisco, submit your paper by December 7, 2015. Organizers are asking for technical papers describing original work or advanced practices on RF, microwave, millimeter-wave, and terahertz (THz) theory and techniques.

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*Editor’s Note: Unfortunately, I had to cancel my trip to IMS at the last minute and was unable to attend the closing keynote or other IMS events. The IMS Facebook page provided the gist of Dr. Solomon’s comments, and I hope the IEEE MTT-S can make a video of her complete presentation available.

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