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Frances Ligler

Portable Optical Biosensors

US Patent No. 5,077,210
Inducted in 2017
Born June 11, 1951

A biosensor is a device using biological molecules to detect a chemical or biological target. Frances Ligler developed a new chemistry for attaching biomolecules on sensor surfaces that maintained their functionality far better than prior approaches and then integrated emerging technologies from a variety of fields to make optical biosensors smaller, more versatile, and more automated. The resulting biosensors have moved out of the lab and into food production plants, clinics in developing countries, pollutant cleanup sites, and areas of concern for military and homeland security.

In 1986, Ligler joined the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, where she and her colleagues developed automated biosensors, including point-of-use sensors for continuous monitoring. The biosensors were configured for manual addition of samples (sample in-answer out) or for automated sampling of air while flying on a drone or of water while deployed on an unmanned undersea vehicle. These biosensors provide quick results, identifying and quantifying pathogens, toxins, pollutants, drugs of abuse, or explosives.

During Operation Desert Storm, Ligler was instrumental in producing tactical sensors for botulinum toxin and anthrax. Ligler's subsequent incorporation of microfluidic channels and miniaturized optics enabled portable devices into which users could simply inject a sample for testing. With the consequent small size and automation, the Ligler group demonstrated the first airborne biosensor for biological warfare agents. Ligler's group developed the underlying technology for the RAPTOR portable, automated biosensor, tested by NATO for use in analyzing biological toxins and pathogens, and used to test water deliveries to U.S. Navy ships in Bahrain. A more advanced system incorporated an array of biological detector molecules to identify pathogens in food or indicators of disease in clinical samples.

Ligler earned her B.S. in biology and chemistry from Furman University, and both a D.Phil. a D.Sc. from Oxford University. She holds 29 U.S. patents, and is currently on the faculty at North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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