Shortlisted entries 2012

9. Shining light on bacteria
David Cowcher

Bacteria are everywhere and although most are harmless, some are able to destroy crops or infect people and animals with deadly disease. In order to protect against or deal with an outbreak, it is critical to be able to identify the bacteria and trace their origins quickly. Using a portable technique called Raman spectroscopy, we can rapidly identify the bacteria by illuminating them with a laser and measuring the energy of the light they scatter, giving us a bacterial fingerprint. We are investigating ways to increase the amount of scattered light by adding microscopic metal particles to liquid containing the bacteria. The obvious difference on the small scale shown in the image allows us to make a big difference to safety on a wide scale, as we can now detect amounts much smaller than those required for infection, even in remote locations, such as factories, schools or individuals’ homes.

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