Smaller and faster biocalorimeter for ultra-sensitive temperature sensing that helps reduce drug-development cost and risk

Drs. Kolawski and Larson developed their new biocalorimetry device using surface, plasmon-enhanced radiation. Radiation is directed at a thin, electrically conductive film that has one or more small apertures. The radiation excites one film surface, and the energy associated with that reaction is coupled to the opposite film surface, through the small apertures. A temperature-sensitive fluid, or solid, dielectric material next to the film is changed by the radiation as it comes through the apertures. The temperature changes in the dielectric material, including very minute changes, can then be measured. With this simpler, less expensive system, biomolecular chemical reactions can be more accurately measured than with current calorimeters.


To develop new drugs, pharmaceutical researchers must understand how biomolecules work in the body. One way to build out this knowledge base is to measure the energy released or absorbed by biomolecular chemical reactions and physical changes. Biocalorimetry measures that energy. With those measurements, researchers can characterize the structure, activity, and function of biomolecules such as proteins, nucleic acids, and lipids. They then have a solid foundation for designing and optimizing drugs that could treat or prevent disease through biomolecular intervention.

Conventional calorimetry methods are not widely used because they require large amounts of reactants, generate low sample throughput, require long experiment run times, need sequential runs to confirm results, cannot measure some sensitive chemical reactions, and are expensive.

Drs. Kowalski and Larson developed a biocalorimeter that overcomes these limitations. It assesses the chemical interactions more accurately, faster, and more efficiently than conventional devices. This chip-scale biocalorimeter could help reduce drug development costs and risks by providing more accurate data with less complex experimentation. The device could be used in a variety of applications including, nanoscale to microscale calorimetrics for pharmaceutical and biotechnology products, combustion sensing, explosive detection, and biotoxin monitoring.

Intellectual Property Status: Patent(s) Pending