An Inductive-Capacitive Sensor for Real-time Biofilm Growth Monitoring

Published in American Vacuum Society 61st International Symposium, 2014

[Slides] [Proceedings]

We present a real-time biofilm monitoring device based on inductive-capacitive (LC) sensing principles. Bacterial biofilms cause severe infectious diseases and environmental contamination. The bacterial biofilm’s complex structure and composition, as well as its ability to exchange genetic information, result in a high tolerance for antimicrobial agents. As a result, established biofilms on implanted or external biomedical devices, such as catheters, are difficult to treat. Traditional antibiotic therapies for biofilm infections often require doses 500-5000 times larger than for non-biofilm infections [1]. Moreover, biofilm growth in environmental and industrial facilities causes contamination and corrosion of equipment due to the toxins generated by biofilms. Therefore, early detection of biofilm growth is critical to facilitate treatment of severe infections and prevent equipment contamination.

In this work, an LC sensor was fabricated using conventional lithography and metal deposition via E-beam evaporation (Cr/Au, 15 nm/200 nm) (Figure 1). The resonant frequency of the sensor was approximately 16 MHz in air at room temperature. A device sensitivity of 1140 Hz/dielectric was demonstrated using a known dielectric material (deionized water) (Figure 2). Escherichia coli W3110 biofilms were grown for 48 hours over the LC sensor and the resonant frequency of the sensor was measured every 80 seconds using a spectrum analyzer (Figure 3). As the biofilm grew over the device, an increase in the resonant frequency of the LC sensor was observed. This is due to the lower dielectric permittivity of the biofilm compared to that of the growth media (Luria Broth, ε ~80), which results in decrease in the capacitance of the sensor. In control experiments with water and air as the media, a slight decrease in the resonant frequency was observed. The resonant frequency shift over time is in good agreement with the natural trend of biofilm growth (Figure 4) [2, 3]. The results validate the use of LC sensing for continuous monitoring of biofilm growth. This sensitive and reliable detection scheme, as well as the capability for flexible substrate integration and wireless interfacing, can serve as a foundation for the development of microsystems for real-time biofilm monitoring for both clinical and environmental applications.