U of T-Based Research Team Wins the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Horizon Prize

June 13, 2023 by Mayuri Punithan - Department of Chemistry

An international collaboration based at the University of Toronto received the Royal Society of Chemistry's (RSC) prestigious Analytical Science Horizon Prize: Robert Boyle Prize. 

The Biosensor Surface Innovators team comprises researchers from the University of Toronto, Comenius University in Bratislava, Slovakia, and the Research Centre for Natural Sciences, Institute of Materials and Environmental Chemistry in Budapest, Hungary. Their members include the Department of Chemistry's Professor Michael Thompson, Research Associate, Brian De La Franier, Postdoctoral Fellow, Soha Ahmadi, and Graduate students: Edmund Chan, Katharina Davoudian, Aries Delica, Nataliia Ivanova, and Navina Lotay.

Biosensors are devices that measure biological or chemical reactions and convert the information into an electrical signal. Common examples include blood sugar monitors, fingertip pulse oximeters, and certain smartwatches. Although they can benefit several fields, mainly healthcare, biosensors often cannot measure certain real-world samples, such as food products and biological fluids. This issue is caused by ‘non-specific adsorption’, as the surface of biosensors is incompatible with these samples' proteins and cells. 

The team designed acoustic wave-based biosensors that can now allow testing for complex media, such as milk, serum in blood, or urine. This innovation furthers the use of biosensors for medical diagnosis, food safety, and other applications. To make this change possible, the team operated "a sensor at a very high frequency to improve sensitivity" and created "small anti-fouling linkers to drastically reduce sensor fouling." These sensors could save time and lives — as they could result in faster analysis of patient samples, earlier diagnosis of illnesses, and prevention of infections.

For over 150 years, The RSC has highlighted the achievements of individuals, teams, and organizations who are advancing the chemical sciences field. The Horizon Prizes celebrate the most exciting, contemporary chemical science at the cutting edge of research and innovation. 

"The work of Biosensor Surface Innovators is a fantastic example of why we celebrate great science," says RSC's Chief Executive, Dr. Helen Pain. "Not only because of how they have expanded our understanding of the world around us, but also because of the incredible contribution they make to society as a whole. We are very proud to recognize their work."

This is a very prestigious international award connected specifically with my area of research, analytical chemistry and science, which is coming from the Royal Society of Chemistry. So, it’s a tremendous recognition of the amazing effort put in by my group over the years regarding the surface chemistry challenge involving biosensor technology. Further it is particularly rewarding since it is associated with a team of dedicated colleagues from Europe. We have always been a very collaborative research group

-Professor Michael Thompson on receiving this award

Read the full press release and interview on RSC's website.